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February 13, 2013

The "New Foreign Policy Divide"
Posted by David Shorr

JamesMontgomeryFlagg-UncleSamWithEmptyTreasury1920LargeOver at, Tom Wright welcomes us to "the Democratic Party's new foreign policy debate." Wright has noticed a fissure start to crack open, one he expects to pit progressive sister against brother. At issue is America's international role at a time of domestic challenges, and the emerging contrasts in approach could presage clashes over policy. 

Tom labels the two camps as "restrainers" and "shapers": 

Restrainers see a crumbling infrastructure, the budget deficit, a subpar education system, and a sluggish economy as much more threatening than events elsewhere in the world. Democrats of this stripe call for "nation-building at home," to use President Obama's phrase, and want to prioritize these tasks at the expense of international commitments, which they see as a drain or a distraction. 

The shapers have a starkly different view. They agree that domestic challenges are important -- and should be the subject of a strong domestic policy agenda -- but they don't believe international difficulties are on the wane. The U.S. economy is in a slump largely because of a crisis prone international economic order ... On security, the United States is a global power and detrimental developments in the Middle East, East Asia, or Europe will severely damage U.S. interests.

Since reading the piece, I've been test-driving Tom's idea. Are these two perspectives indeed prominent impulses within our major policy debates -- each of them with a clear enough orientation to offer answers to the big questions of our foreign policy? And has he avoided caricature? Actually, I think Tom's onto something. For one thing, he's given us a badly needed framework to talk about adjustments to American hegemony without the overblown specter of isolationism. 

We can start with the test of trying to place oneself in one of the two camps. Pretty easy in my case: confirmed shaper. Just take one line about the US global role from Nina Hachigian and my "Responsibility Doctrine" piece in Washington Quarterly

With a distinct ongoing role as a global leader, it will put great effort into bringing others along and offer its own cooperation for reasons of self-interest as well as broader peace and prosperity. 

Pretty shaper-ish sounding, I have to admit. Now I should also point out that the rest of the paragraph and article are about shifting some of the burden to other nations -- which sounds like restrainer talk -- but that's not a problem. Recall that Tom described shapers as sharing a sensitivity to our domestic challenges and constraints. 

Back during George W. Bush's presidency, we used to contrast the conservative and progressive approaches in terms that may be applicable here. Conservatives preferred to work unilaterally where they could, and multilaterally where they must; the progressive instinct is the reverse. Perhaps we can say that restrainers want the United States to involve itself only where it's imperative, while shapers also want to get involved where it can be constructive. Crucially, we shapers are still exercising prudence to ensure US involvement has good prospects for success. Shapers are picking our shots, whereas restrainers are pulling in their horns.

Naturally I recoil at Tom's forecast of progressives split into rival factions. There's also a best-case scenario in which the two perspectives provide a creative tension resulting in sound policies. Either way, though, I think Tom has identified a key fault line for us. 

UPDATE: Revised since published to add a sentence to the penultimate graf.

GRAPHIC: Cartoon by James Montgomery Flagg

How Can the G-20 Regain its Mojo?
Posted by David Shorr

Recently I've traded posts back and forth with fellow G-20 watchers at the G20 Studies Centre of Australia's Lowy Institute. In a further bit of synchronicity, the Centre released a fuller analysis within days of an equivalent piece from me and a colleague. Looked at side-by-side, the two papers offer a lot of shared diagnosis of what ails the G-20, but also clarifies the lingering dispute over the scope of the group's agenda.

Both of these pieces give prescriptions to boost G-20 effectiveness in its next phase. The first four years of G-20 summits since the 2008 financial meltdown give us a good base of experience with its strengths and weaknesses as a multilateral body -- plenty of lessons to be gleaned and applied.

As the Lowy Institute's Mike Callaghan (a former Australian deputy finance minister) sees it, the process is due for a reset. His paper thus calls for Relaunching the G20 on the basis of nine essential precepts of summit-craft. My own paper on The G-20 as a Lever for Progress was written jointly with Barry Carin of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). And while many of Barry and my ideas for a stronger G-20 are similar to Mike's, we didn't couch them as a major overhaul. That's because we see the G-20 as having gotten something of a bad rap, surrounded by cynics who make no effort to understand how the G-20 works or what it's trying to do. For all the debate over the G-20's proper focus and critique of its effectiveness, there's been scant attention to the practicalities of this comparatively new forum. 

In fact, the G-20 is dealing with an assortment of problems using various ways and means. One section of the Carin-Shorr paper takes inventory of the G-20 toolbox -- from collective declarations to national policy commitments, agenda-setting, resource-mobilization, or new multilateral mechanisms such as the Financial Stability Board and IMF Mutual Assessment Process. If you want to get the most out of this process, start with a full picture of its efforts thus far. And working from that sort of overview, Barry and I derived a cardinal rule of thumb for everything the G-20 does:

For any issue on its agenda, G-20 involvement is justified only when its attention to that issue translates into progress that could not otherwise be attained. Every proposed topic must be justified by such a theory of change, and every related report, statement, and communique must show what is being accomplished.

The G-20 can, and should, tackle a variety of international challenges, but always aimed at advancing the dialogue and moving toward solutions. As I highlighted in the last go-round with my Lowy Institute colleagues, this is a debate over which issues should be on the G-20 leaders' plates. (At some level it's also a culture clash between economic and foreign policy specialists, but that's another topic.) Mike Callaghan is arguing for erecting a wall around the G-20 agenda that keeps the leaders from dealing with anything but the main business of economic growth, financial stability, and governance reform for the Bretton Woods Institutions. 

Boiling it down, the Carin-Shorr argument is that there's a right way and a wrong way to be an agenda hawk. The G-20 can be clear about priorities, disciplined in its deliberations, and vigilant about wasted effort -- all without slamming the door on a few ancillary topics that offer the chance to make a positive difference. Some of our ideas are also echoed in a report from a study group of US and Chinese experts convened by the Stanley Foundation, Center for American Progress, and China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

As I mentioned, both sides of this debate agree on many things. All of us are concerned about G-20 reports and communique text that highlight issues without advancing them. We all agree on the importance of keeping world leaders focused on G-20 priorities that really need their attention, and Mike offers some great ideas for how the leaders' precious hours together at summits can be best spent and structured.

But here again, key questions in this debate are only loosely connected to practical realities. The plain fact is that the leaders do not engage or even familiarize themselves with all the issues on the G-20 agenda. That's not to deny that senior aides and lower-level officials certainly spin their wheels for some of the matters on the docket. Yet that's an argument for culling the agenda and enforcing greater discipline rather than a draconian purge. 

February 12, 2013

Best State of the Union Moments-Yep, in Advance
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

In addition to the domestic policy you know about, there will be serious and important words on Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, cybersecurity, global poverty and climate change tonight. I'll write on that later, but here's what will keep you on the edge of your seat:

1. Who gets more tv cutaways, Ted Nugent or Michelle Obama?

2. Does Ted Cruz look even remotely abashed after his un-freshman-like outburst at the Armed Services Committee Hagel vote this afternoon? It's probably too much to hope that he's seen with McCain on national tv. If this happens, drain your alcoholic beverage and thank the tv gods.

3. Come to think of it, do the Teds meet? What does that look like?

4. In his response, does Marco Rubio repeat his summer Brookings approach of criticizing his own party more than the President? Of calling for diplomacy with Iran, and closer ties with allies?

5. Ditto Rand Paul, only never at Brookings. What can he say on national security that his own party agrees with? Stay sober enough to track this.

6. Drink every time a commentator who has never been to South Asia says "fighting season" while discussing Afghanistan.

7. If you want to be sure to sober up in time to drive home, only drink when GOP respondents say "Afghanistan."



February 08, 2013

Tanks But No Tanks
Posted by The Editors

Check out NSN Senior Advisor Major General (ret) Paul Eaton on the Daily Show last night discussing the M1 Abrams tank: 
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