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August 15, 2008

As things fall apart
Posted by Max Bergmann

No week has better illustrated the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration's foreign policy then this one.

Just look at the front page of the New York Times today. It has two big stories above the fold. The left column is about Musharraf's resignation. The right column is about the collapse of the Bush-Putin relationship.

Instead of two articles it should have had one headline: After 8 Years Bush's Pakistan And Russia Policies Shown To Be Complete Failures.


So this week at the same time the President was coming to the realization that his insights into Putin’s soul may have been misguided, his failed policy toward Pakistan was also coming full circle. The resignation of Musharraf represents the total collapse of eight years of Bush administration policy. Toward both Russia and Pakistan, Bush pursued a personality driven policy - to Russia we had a Putin Policy, to Pakistan we had a Musharraf Policy. And both leaders have used their personal relationships with the President to insulate themselves from broader criticism. In the end, we never had a real strategy for either country and eight years later we find ourselves increasingly powerless to do anything about it.

Perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next President is attempting to restore U.S. credibility and prestige around the world. McCain this week has shown exactly the wrong way to go about it. His recent over-the-top rhetoric about Georgia is exactly the wrong approach and reeks of the same neoconservative inspired thinking that emanated from Bush's first term. Making hollow promises and defiant threats, when the Bush administration just showed that such rhetoric to be completely hollow, only makes the U.S. look less credible (Of course, if McCain were actually serious about following through on his reckless rhetoric and militarily confronting Russia then that would not only be insane but would further imperil our superpower status). McCain's mocking of Obama's trip abroad, only demonstrates how out of touch McCain actually is. The fact is that we need a leader who can convince the world once again to follow the lead of the United States. Obama's trip demonstrated that he has the power to do that. While on the other hand, all McCain has shown is a lot of reckless crazy talk that will only leave us isolated and weaker.


Where Did Our Leverage Go?
Posted by David Shorr

The Georgia situation is so revealing of so many things wrong with our foreign policy, which have been well remarked, here and elsewhere. In response to Michael, his what-are-our-interests question is a bit bloodless for my taste. The way I see it, we can and should be just as frank about the immorality of Russia's moves as about our lack of many (any?) options to resist them.

The drains on American leverage is a depressing litany: compromised moral authority, military overstretch, high oil prices, ballooning debt, attention to only one region of the world... And then there's our overburdened and utterly un-strategic agenda of issues with Russia -- nuclear threat reduction, Iran, nuclear cooperation, NATO expansion, Ukraine & Georgia, the great game of energy pipelines ... and MISSILE DEFENSE !?#$@#! In a nutshell, no bilateral relationship works if you're asking the other side to do a long list of things you want (and don't offer much in return, by the way).

Basically I agree with Max on two scores, but wanted to press the point. Max is right that we shouldn't be too quick to slam NATO expansion. Let me turn up the confoundment / exasperation dial on this fight over missile defense. Whatever the possible imprudence of pulling Georgia into NATO -- seemingly moot now that we patently (and not wrongly) -- don't have the stomache to defend it, there is a legitimate issue about the value of NATO and a nation's own sovereign right to join alliances of its own choosing.

But regardless of whether missile defense is pointed at Russia or not, it seems utterly absurd to me that so much diplomatic capital has to be spent and so much attention devoted to a weapon system of such dubious technological efficacy. Let me get this straight, here we are in the middle of a crisis / tragedy, and one of the complicating factors is a system that isn't likely to work as advertised (if ever) for a very long time. If nothing else, we have handed Moscow the gift of a pretext for them to lecture us. How is that smart exactly?

August 14, 2008

No Good Answers
Posted by Michael Cohen

A couple of people have asked me why I haven't written anything on Russia/Georgia war: the bottom line is that I'm a bit out of my element here. I am not an expert on Georgia or Russia and, as is often the case, I'm constantly amazed by the assuredness by which some bloggers have made pronouncements about how the United States should respond; as if this crisis lends itself to a simple black and white analysis. Even if you buy the notion that the Georgians are the white hats and the Russians the black hats (a persuasive argument indeed) that barely illuminates the situation or offers a road map going forward.

For example, even if you view this war as Russian aggression, it's also a simple case of the Russians flexing their muscles in their near abroad. Let's call it the Russian version of the Monroe Doctrine: and maybe John McCain who has been prone to declaring that "we are all Georgians" should reflect on the fact that he was born in the Panama Canal Zone and wonder how that ever became a US territory. This is what great powers do; it's what the US did in Latin America for more than 150 years; and the US stands on weak ground in making a federal case out of this. Russia interests are regional, not global and ratcheting up the rhetoric of a new Cold War, as some have done, is not only misplaced, but it's downright counter-productive.

Second, what exactly can the US do to reverse Russian aggression. Should we take Max Boot's advice and send the Georgians Stinger and Javelin missiles and start a proxy war with the Russians. . . . By the way, did I mention that Max Boot is a top campaign advisor to John McCain. The last thing we need now is more flagwaving from neo-conservatives who get light-headed at the very idea of bombing other countries (and yes, I'm well aware there was a more vivid way for me to make this analogy). Part of the reason we are in this mess is because our President foolishly let his rhetoric get ahead of geopolitical reality by proposing the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, which would, in effect, extend the US nuclear umbrella to Kiev and Tbilisi. One can only wonder why the Russians saw this as a direct provocation.

This brings me to my last point; where is the US national interest in Georgia? As important as we may think Georgian democracy is, shouldn't US national interests trump all else? We're fighting a war in Afghanistan, we're fighting a war in Iraq, we have global terrorists to worry about, not to mention a faltering economy and a worsening trade deficit. It seems to me that Georgia falls pretty low on the list of US priorities.  My heart goes out to the Georgians, but anyone who wants to argue that their political leadership didn't bring this on themselves is ignoring reality. I don't mean to sound heartless here, but there are limits to the extent to which the US should stick its neck out for faraway countries that engage in reckless behavior with authoritarian neighbors. We are doing the right thing by sending Condi to the region to try and negotiate and cease-fire; we are right to express our displeasure with Russia's actions and threaten punitive consequences, but beyond we have few good choices. We're not going to war over Georgia and by no approximation of US national interests should that even be on the table.

Now having said all of this, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Russia's behavior is incredibly dangerous. It's never a good thing when any country, particularly a member of the P-5, so brazenly violates the UN Charter and invades a neighbor. It's just that we have very few arrows in our quiver. Several folks have gotten in back and forth over how far the US should go in condemning the Russian behavior. But I think this misses the larger point; we are not going to turn back the Russians - what we need to focus on is how we stop this from happening again and ensure that US national interests are protected over the long-term.

Pushing for a resolution between Russian and Georgia that upholds Georgian sovereignty is a good first step. Making clear that similar Russian adventures in Ukraine will not be tolerated is another, coupled with a pledge not to extend NATO membership to Kiev in the near-term. Encouraging a new era of Moscow-Washington summit meetings as Fred Kaplan suggests would be another smart move to prevent these types of events from happening in the future.

Finally, my colleague Bill Hartung also offers a gimlet-eyed perspective:

We have to recognize that Russia is a nasty state that may well do things that Americans don't like in the coming period; but rather than pretending that we have the wherewithal to dictate their policies, we will need to build some sort of relationship that could head off the worst results of Russia's renewed ambitions along its borders.

Good advice at a time when more reassuring answers are hard to locate.

Unfit to Lead?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Perhaps the most important constituency judging the leadership qualities of a potential commander-in-chief patently refutes the McCain's campaign argument that Obama is "unfit to lead": the US military (via TPM).

According to an analysis of campaign contributions by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain, and the fiercely anti-war Ron Paul, though he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago, has received more than four times McCain's haul.

Makes sense. I can't imagine any soldier serving abroad supporting the perpetual state of war John McCain seems to have advocated in the past.

The Real White House Forgery
Posted by Adam Blickstein

As chatter regarding Ron Suskind's new book and allegations of a forged White House letter continues, Rand Beers has an Op-Ed in today's Philadelphia Inquirer examining the Bush administration's lackluster record on intelligence. Read the whole thing here. Key quote:

Today, we find ourselves facing serious threats from enemies the Bush administration promised to vanquish, and allegations it fabricated intelligence to justify war against an enemy that wasn't an imminent threat. More fundamentally, Suskind's book underscores a larger problem with this White House's failed record on intelligence: a history of manipulating and possibly manufacturing intelligence to justify a political agenda at any cost.

What Russian and Georgian Diplomacy?
Posted by Moira Whelan

It seems the Bush Administration is now trying their hand at diplomacy in the Caspian region. I wanted to give note to something told to me by a friend of NSN.

Earlier this year, the Voice of America, one of America’s leading arms of public diplomacy in the world, made the decision to cut service in Georgia as of September. It had also made an earlier decision to decrease service into Russia to just a bit of tv and internet. This means basically that when US officials have weighed in on the latest developments, there is no US agency able to carry that message to the Georgian or Russian people.

Why would the US government do this even as we knew tensions in the region were growing? As with most other things, the answer is simple: money. The $7 million for service to former Soviet states was cut in order to give priority instead to Alhurra and Radio Sawa designed to provide influence in the Middle East, a program described as “a huge boondoggle” by folks that work at VOA, since basically no one listens to it or watches it and yet we’re spending $500 million a year on it.

That's right folks, save $7 million on effective programs in order to waste $500 million on programs that are failures, but failures in a popular part of the world. If $500 million is what was needed for an effective program, than we should do it, but apparently internal VOA discussion shows significant disappointment with programming: individuals who lack cultural and religious credibility have been hired dooming broadcasts to irrelevance. Broadcasts are not adequately translated because of a lack of individuals who speak specific dialects. Little things like this mean that basically, it's not money well spent.

Apparently VOA skated through the latest developments in Georgia just fine, mainly because most of the employees of the Georgia service where actually in Tblisi at the time looking for work.

But when basic mistakes like cutting an inexpensive and yet effective diplomatic tool are made, it strikes me as a continuation of a major complaint people have had for years: incompetence is not only not prevented, it seems to be the governing principle in the Bush Administration.

August 13, 2008

Caucasus Mountain High
Posted by Adam Blickstein

An obvious aspect of the Georgia/Russia conflict is just how unfocused we were to either anticipate or react to the level and intensity of the situation.  Jeff Stein over at CQ makes some astute points, noting that prior to the deterioration in the region, we had 127 Pentagon advisors and intelligence contractors in Georgia, not to mention the 1,200 American troops that were participating in a three-week joint exercise with Georgian forces that started only a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, according to a Senior State Department official:

"I wouldn't say we were blind," the official said. "I would say that we mostly were focused elsewhere, unlike during the Cold War, when we'd see a single Soviet armor battalion move. So, yes, the size and scope of the Russian move has come as something of a surprise."

Of course, Stein calls BS that we had no idea Georgia was planning to take initial action:

As easy as it is to believe that the CIA, etc., blew another huge event, I find it impossible to accept that not one of the 127 Pentagon advisors in Georgia, including Special Forces and intelligence contractors, were clueless about Tblisi's intent -- and preparations -- to move into South Ossetia.

As Stein goes on to note, there is a lot here we simply don't know yet, and there are no plans to redeploy the U.S. advisors and intel official stationed in and around Tblisi. But it is clear that we have a lot of administration officials speaking in diametrically opposite fashions and intoning varying levels of knowledge.  While it is true that during the Cold War we would know if the Russian moved a single Kalashnikov from Novgorod to Volgograd and it's obvious our intel apparatus, like the military, is stretched thin with invigorated focus on the Middle East and other strategically important areas in the region, not knowing about the Russian incursion and the breadth of its use of force is simply not a possibility, especially since only three weeks ago, both Russia and Georgia (with the 1,200 American troops) were holding competing war games. Is this a conflict we knew about but let happen? Did we really (unlikely) not anticipate that the Russians would steamroll into Georgia?

If we were in fact blind to the institutional knowledge and historical patterns to think that Russia would not use all the might in its arsenal in order to crush its tiny, pro-western, pro-Democracy neighbor with rival oil interests, than not only were we caught flat footed, but  also intoxicated in a hazy cloud of ignorance. It's pretty obvious the U.S. knew, or at least anticipated an outcome similar to what is currently happening in the Caucuses. The larger question is did we want the conflict, and if we didn't, why didn't we wield all our diplomatic muscle, though substantially atrophied these days, to try and diffuse a situation we should have seen coming.

August 12, 2008

It's Not NATO Expansion, It's Bush's Lack of a Russia Policy
Posted by Max Bergmann

There is a lot of talk about what a mistake it was to support/offer NATO membership to Georgia. How this was naturally going to antagonize Russia and now how the idea of NATO enlargement is such a bad idea because it would naturally antagonize Russia. This to me represents a badly mistaken reading of the situation and grossly dismisses the amazing success NATO enlargement has been.

The fact is that NATO expansion was one of the most successful post-Cold War policies, as it helped anchor fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe to the west and enabled and facilitated EU expansion. Did Russia consistently view NATO expansion with trepidation and hostility? Yes. But measures were taken by the Clinton administration to assuage Russian fears. Namely, efforts were made to include Russia to a significant degree in NATO. But the important point was that NATO expansion was rooted in broader U.S. - Russia dialogue.

The problem with Bush's policy toward Georgia was not support for NATO expansion or its support for a democracy on Russia's borders. The problem was that we pursued this policy in a vacuum.

For the last 8 years the Bush administration has had no Russia policy and had no corresponding approach to address Russian concerns about democratic governance along its borders. Instead, the Bush administration only cared about two things 1. Maintaining the warm relationship between Bush and Putin at apparently any cost and 2. Expanding missile defense. Our support for the colored revolutions and NATO expansion was completely divorced from any coherent policy toward Russia.

In the meantime Russia has grown stronger over the last decade fueled by its vast energy resources and became more hostile toward democracy both within Russia, as well as along its borders. Instead, of engaging or confronting Russian hostility toward democracy and its neighbors (ie. its eviction of democratic civil society groups, its conducting of cyber attacks against Baltic EU members, its connections to poisonings, its manipulation of oil and gas pipelines against its neighbors, etc. etc.) the U.S. turned a blind eye, and Europe followed. Instead, the "big" issue of discussion between the U.S. and Russia was over a strategically useless missile defense system. We went to the mat on that but failed to mention all of the other issues.

There is a ton of blame on all sides of this conflict. But the strategically stupid thing on our part was not our support of Georgian democracy, but doing so in a vacuum.

What's My Name?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Too bad Wikipedia doesn't phonetically spell out the names of world leaders who are at war with Russia cause John McCain could use the assistance (or at least maybe one of his top foreign policy aides who used to work for the Georgian government could have helped):

To quote Bob from Office Space: We're gonna be getting rid of these people here... First, Mr. Samir Naga... Naga... Naga... Not gonna work here anymore, anyway.

August 11, 2008

Wrong Way McCain
Posted by Patrick Barry

I would challenge McCain to come up with a Wikipedia entry to explain his way around this glaring policy absence.  Thanks to Hanna Lundqvist for point this out:

John McCain is out in the cold yet again. Prominent national security minds agree that U.S. foreign policy implementation has been co-opted by the Pentagon with disastrous results and that it’s time to re-empower our State Department. Despite support for this initiative from both parties and both departments, John McCain disagrees, and has no plan to increase national service outside of the military.

New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof, a progressive and outspoken critic of the Bush administration, has an op-ed today on the dramatic imbalance between funding for the Defense Department versus State:

In short, the United States is hugely overinvesting in military tools and underinvesting in diplomatic tools. The result is a lopsided foreign policy that antagonizes the rest of the world and is ineffective in tackling many modern problems. After all, you can’t bomb global warming.

Kristof’s point, which was the subject of a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on July 31st, is supported by both military and diplomatic leaders from the Republican administration. The hearing revealed the bipartisan nature of the need for reform in the administration of foreign policy; this is not an issue for progressives or conservatives alone.

Surprisingly, one of the greatest advocates of increasing the United States’ diplomatic prowess is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He has emerged as a champion of increasing funding for the State Department and shifting the burden of diplomatic efforts from the military to the civilian:

“I think that the State Department is the proper place to oversee all of the elements of American foreign policy… [it] does not have the authority, the resources or the power to be able to play the role as the lead agency in American foreign policy, and the Congress has not been willing, decade in and decade out, to give the State Department the kind of resources, people and authority that it needs to play its proper role in American foreign policy.”

The consequences of this failed system have been, and will continue to be, disastrous: the Pentagon’s control over aid operations has led to U.S. foreign aid offers being stymied by distrust of the U.S. military in foreign communities. U.S. efforts to increase economic opportunities, to combat disease and hunger, and to provide mass education can only help in the global war on terror, which breeds in areas of poverty, disease, and despair. A single, streamlined, non-military, well-trained and well-funded U.S. aid apparatus that works harmoniously with other countries (both those receiving aid and those helping to provide it) is sorely needed, both for moral reasons and for our national security.

Despite bipartisan support in Congress and agreement from the State Department and the DOD, once again, John McCain stands alone, on the wrong side of the issue, bound by his single-mindedly militaristic point of view.

John McCain's Wikipolicy
Posted by The National Security Network

Update: This is Pat Barry here, I was in a hurry to get this up and I mistakenly posted it under the wrong username.  Hat tip to Adam Blickstein too, who pointed the story out to me in the first place.

So John McCain apparently lifted huge portions of his statement on the unfolding crisis in Georgia from Wikipedia.  Here's a 3 AM question for you: do you want a President with a real strategy for containing such a crisis, or do you want someone who's stumbling over wikipedia entries after getting internet lessons from his wife.  I guess when it comes to McCain and foreign policy, it's a google!

NSN at the Olympics
Posted by Patrick Barry

While I'm not sure we can expect an 'Ilan Goldenberg' appearance at the 100 meter-dash anytime soon, NSN is fortunate to be able to offer live reporting from the Olympics, courtesy of Intern/Field Reporter Max Stoiber.  This is the first post in a series containing Max's thoughts, feelings and assessments on life in Beijing:

I know communism from history books: sinister black and white depictions of internment camps, red flags heroically waving in the wind, signaling the ‘victory of the people’, which all but doesn’t hold to be true in most cases.  China has taken great pains to put a pleasant face on the regime, and from what I can tell, at least in Beijing, they are succeeding. 

The city beams of modernity and comfort. The main east-west access road is comparable to Las Vegas’ Rodeo Drive, but with the architecture, construction and business-like demeanor of downtown Manhattan. One brand new, high rise, luxury-brand filled superstructure follows the next as one drives towards the center of the city, recognizing familiar Western company names and rather unfamiliar Chinese ones, passed by fleeting Audis and Mercedes that are not necessarily official. When we entered a mall to look for a restaurant, I could easily have been walking into Pentagon City Mall and not have known the difference.

Tiananmen Square, usually devoid of crowds, is packed to the edge with tourists, the large majority of which are Chinese. In an astounding show of force, the Chinese middle class demonstrates its profound growth in the streets and shops of Beijing, where consumerism flourishes. My companions and I are mostly met with curious smiles, on three occasions we were asked to pose for pictures with giggling schoolgirls or middle aged sports enthusiast. It seems as if the economic expansion really has benefited at least some of the population, at least if one goes by the number of decently wealthy Chinese Olympic tourists.

Most surprisingly however, not only is there no indication of complacency towards foreigners, it almost seems as if Beijing has embraced many Western cultural traditions. The BigMac and Kentucky Fried Chicken meal numbers are the same as anywhere. Stores even display team USA jerseys and t-shirts. US and Western athletes like Kobe Bryant, David Beckham or Rafael Nadal are universally loved and admired.

Of course, this could all simply be an effort by the government to cover up the ugly reality of things in Beijing. Boards hiding construction sites and the poor ‘Hutong’ huts, eagerly friendly officials and shiny, spotless street sides are most certainly an indication of the communist regime’s willingness to make Beijing flawless. And they do seem scared: I counted at least 14 6-man army and police patrols on and around Tiananmen Square, marching determined in unison. But the innovative spirit, flashy modernity and openness of the citizens of the city are undeniably well rooted.

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