Archive for the 'Foreign Affairs' Category

Good book: Taming American Power

12 April 2006

Stephen Walt of Harvard offers an eminently clear-headed view of U.S. foreign policy, where it's going wrong, and what would work better. In non-polemical language, he shows how the Bush administration's policy of hegemony cannot work, and how in the long run (and often in the short run, too) making friends works better than flexing muscles. How the current administration could ever embrace his ideas, I don't know, but the book is sober, extraordinarily clear, and well worth reading.

Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy


What we do know and what we don’t about foreign policy.

14 March 2006

Note this item from today’s Guardian:

‘An unbelievable mess’: Memo from John Sawer, Blair’s special envoy to Iraq after Saddam’s overthrow

It’s worth keeping in mind that the Guardian has a large ax to grind with the Bush Administration, with perhaps a separate, even larger, ax for the Anglo-American Iraq policy in particular. The Guardian is also, however, a newspaper of high quality, and anyway this item is a primary document rather than a piece of commentary derived at second hand.

What does it tell us?

The situation in Iraq today has long roots. These were in place long before any U.S. occupation was ever contemplated. But the mistakes made after the military invasion were myriad, and avoidable. This was clear to John Sawer in 2003, it was clear to James Fallows in 2004, it is clear today. The Bush administration did not lay plans for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Although many nastier things could have happened–biological weapons fired into Israel would be one example–the outcome of the fighting was foreordained . . . and yet chaos ensued as soon as the fighting was over. The prima facie explanation for this was that the administration did not concern itself with planning for the post-invasion phase.

Let me be very clear on this point, because often these things get lost in the partisan meta-analyses of the political media: I make no comment here on the good will of the administration. I make no comment on its intelligence or competence. I am saying, rather, that the administration made a choice not to focus on post-invasion planning–and that choice has had consequences.

If all I had to go on were Fallows’s attributions to anonymous military experts, I might be more skeptical. But I know a couple of senior military officers myself, and their evidence comports with his: there was no meaningful planning for the occupation phase of U.S. involvement in Iraq. Planning stopped at the invasion phase.

Some improvements were made later. Sawer was right that things would improve under Bremer’s leadership as compared to Garner’s. The U.S. military has continued to show its excellence in the field. But the plainest interpretation of events–based on a wealth of data–indicates that the administration, for whatever set of reasons, did not give much thought to what would happen after the GIs had won the shooting match. To my knowledge, there is no mass of data to the contrary.

What are the implications of that? There is one line of thinking that says it doesn’t matter if Iraq disintegrates–that the point was to change the status quo, to remove an enemy, and to insert the U.S. forcefully into the picture of Middle East affairs. Those objectives have been achieved; the rest is the breaking of crockery. So, at least, runs one interpretation.

But this is guesswork. The truth is, I don’t know what lurks in Bush’s heart–or Cheney’s, or Rumsfeld’s, or Rice’s. People guess at it every day, but to what end? Mostly it is for ascription of motive, which doesn’t really interest me much here. Yes, sure, in the long run, as a historian, I’d love to know more about exactly why the administration came to the conclusions that it did. But for now? Looking the policy as it unfolds? That doesn’t concern me much. I want to know what happened and how that has affected what’s happening now. Sawer’s memo gives us clues to this.

I have a friend who has defended Bush’s Iraq policy throughout, to the point of denying to me, late in 2004, that the administration had made a number of observable, objective, technical mistakes in carrying out its own stated grand strategy. In a recent e-mail this same friend criticized those writers who are writing the game story on Iraq when the game is only into the seventh inning. He has a point: it is too early to say what will happen in Iraq. It is too early for Bush defenders to declare a good outcome, and too early for Bush critics to declare a bad outcome. But parts of the story are clear on a factual basis. Things were not going well on the ground in 2003, and they might have gone better had the administration made different choices–obvious choices–about how to prosecute its policy. Supporters and detractors alike ought to do what they can to strip away the commentary, boil things down to the hard facts, and then build up their analysis from there. If nothing else, this is a tonic way to test our biases.

Yushchenko’s poisoning.

21 February 2006

A year later, the dioxin poisoning of then-candidate, now-president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko remains bizarre. This article from Seed sheds only a bit more light on the subject, since the source of the poison remains unknown.

The Poisoning of Ukraine’s President

Interesting: Less power for the Queen?

6 February 2006

I am hardly an expert in British politics, but I find this development intriguing:

Queen’s powers should be removed, says Cameron

With this move the new Conservative leader, David Cameron, “takes his campaign to reshape the Conservative party to a startling new level.” Cameron’s tactic is designed not to undermine the Queen, but to give to Parliament powers that are technically reserved to the Queen, but which in practice are exercised by (Labour Party) ministers.

That covers a vast range of government activity, from the appointment of bishops and the honours system to the right to go to war, sign treaties and fill many official jobs. However, Mr Cameron has asked it to focus on four specific areas: the right to
· declare war and send troops abroad;
· to make international and European treaties;
· to make appointments and award honours;
· to make major changes to the structure of government.

He has specifically ruled out changes to what he calls “the personal prerogative powers of the monarch, such as the power to dissolve parliament and appoint a prime minister”. Mr Cameron is anxious to make it clear that he does not have Her Majesty in his sights, but the powers ministers now exercise on her behalf. He is not, aides insist, a closet republican. […]

“I’m a staunch supporter of our constitutional monarchy and would not want to undermine it in any way,” Mr Cameron will say in a speech today. But by venturing into a debate more often heard among Liberal Democrats and the left of the Labour party, the Tory leader has opened up the possibility of significant constitutional reform. […]

Mr Cameron paints the move as something that could limit what he calls “the personal, presidential style that has taken hold under New Labour. […]”

Here’s a thought experiment: If, in some future century, Britain dissolved its monarchy, historians would subsequently write a history that traced back to the English Civil War, the Long Parliament, and so on. But when they started writing about the modern erosion of the institution–the first chinks in the wall of unthinkability surrounding the idea of removing the monarchy . . . would a move like Cameron’s figure in that chapter?

Credit where it’s due: GWB on oil dependency.

2 February 2006

For now, I plan to post very little on politics. I spend lots of time thinking about it, but at the moment I find it more valuable to talk about other things.

That having been said, I want to give kudos to President Bush–with whom I disagree about many, many things–for at least talking a good game about reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The relevant quote from Tuesday’s State of the Union address:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources — and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative — a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research — at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. (Applause.)

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We’ll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past. (Applause.)

This is admirable, I’m glad Bush said it, and he should be commended for saying it. Here’s hoping that he actually puts all of this into action in a meaningful way. But the skepticism of environmentalists is easy to understand.

For more, here is the Guardian’s take on the subject.

FP’s Top 10 Missed stories of 2005

22 December 2005

Yet another fascinating thing to read, full of stuff I didn’t know — in my own field!

I simply must do more reading . . .