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June, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Diplospeak Quote of the Day

"We are willing to make joint efforts with the U.S. to cohere to the dialogue and consultation mechanism and take each other's concerns into consideration to better achieve mutual benefits."

-- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in remarks following his meeting with Condoleezza Rice.


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday, called on the United States to take measures to stabilize its currency and prevent further slowdown of the global economy...

China was taking measures to safeguard its stable economic development and hoped the United States would overcome its credit crisis soon, Wen said, adding that China was willing to cooperate with the United States.

Thanks for sharing, Wen.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Sarkozy the European

I've got a new piece up over at World Politics Review titled, Sarkozy the European: France's EU Presidency:

On July 1, France will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union, a role it will exercise for the next six months. It's a moment that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been preparing for since last year, and anxiously awaiting since at least January, when his popularity among French voters suddenly plummeted. With the impact of his domestic reforms stymied by the increased cost of fuel and food commodities, and his image tarnished by personal excesses and professional lapses, Sarkozy was counting on using the parallel track of the EU presidency to reinject some dynamism into his flagging first term in office. But as he himself once observed, political success depends on a combination of determination, competence and luck. And if Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty just weeks before the French EU presidency is any indication, Sarkozy's luck might not have turned yet.

Also, remember that if at any time during the week you don't see anything posted here, click through to the WPR blog, because I'm posting there every day.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   La France Politique   

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Syber War

The new Sy Hersh piece is up at the New Yorker and -- with the caveat that it might be time to coin a term along the lines of a "Friedman Unit" to describe Hersh's Iran reporting -- to the extent that his account of the Bush administration's covert operations against Iran is accurate, the operations are misguided for all the obvious reasons. Hersh identifies most of them, but leaves unmentioned the fact that encouraging ethno-sectarian faultlines as a means of undermining the Iranian regime is logically inconsistent with the Western strategic consensus that identifies the effects of ethno-sectarian conflict as one of the principle threats to regional and global stability, and repairing them as the emerging justification and goal of military intervention. It's reassuring to note that Vali Nasr, in the piece, dismisses the effectiveness of applying such a tactic to Iran due to the country's well-established national identity, but I remember hearing the same logic used to explain why Iraq's Shiite community would be resistant to Iranian influence in Iraqi internal politics.

Another point that Hersh treats obliquely is that the groups we're supporting covertly, in particular PJAK but to a lesser degree Jundullah, represent threats to our friends as well as to Iran. Hersh mentions the tension this might cause us with Turkey and Afghanistan respectively, but it's worth noting that, as Turkey's security cooperation with Iran regarding Kurdish guerillas in northern Iraq illustrates, our covert Iran policy is also working at cross purposes with our overt Iran policy, namely to isolate Tehran from its neighbors.

But to my mind, the greatest risk of these covert operations is not so much the threat they pose to our Middle East policy, so much as the threat they pose to the health and integrity of our domestic political institutions. The degree of secrecy in which the current administration's covert operations are shrouded is all the more worrying given the Bush administration's willingness, according to Hersh, to keep not only Congress but to a large degree the uniformed military chain of command in the dark about covert operations as well.

That takes on added significance in the context of the upcoming presidential transition. Most of the discusion of that transition has focused on the conduct of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the need for institutional and operational continuity. But with so much of the Bush administration's counterterror and now Middle East policy taking place off the books and being arguably illegal, there's reason to worry about whether or not we'll ever really track all of it down. And that raises the very real risk of these operations becoming rogue operations directed by a private chain of command, if they're directed at all.

A lot of this has to do with executive overreach, and both Barack Obama and John McCain have discussed ways in which they would return the executive branch to the Constitutional framework largely ignored by President Bush. But the guiding logic of all of the operations discussed by Hersh is the War on Terror, which the Bush administration has used to justify the Commander-in-Chief override of the oversight process. The next president should declare the War on Terror over in a legal sense, even while pursuing it operationally. It would send the right message to Americans, to American agents and to the region that we're ready to shine some light into the shadows, instead of operating in them.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iran   

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Chad Dispatches

I'd just like to flag a couple of WPR articles for any readers who might enter the site directly through the blog. David Axe, who is a frequent WPR contributor, has travelled to Eastern Chad to report on the humanitarian crisis in the region as over 250,000 Darfur refugees, refugees of the Central African Republic's civil war, and internally displaced Chadians converge on the frontier delta. I covered the story last March for WPR from the comfort of Paris. David's conditions are quite a bit more dangerous, and his first two dispatches (here and here) are well worth a read. These are the kinds of stories that really go overlooked unless courageous people like David stick their neck out to get them, and journals like WPR decide to run them. Hats off to both.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Engagement vs. Provocation

Diplomatic engagement with Iran is inevitable, not because they're "ten feet tall and on a roll," as this WaPo article (via Laura Rozen) puts it, or even because they're "dangerous, and clever, and good at asymmetric warfare." Diplomatic engagement is inevitable because it's the only official means of communication between nations besides war, and war is in neither Iran's nor our interest. On the other hand, I don't think that diplomatic engagement should be organized under a logic of "[T]hey have a lot of vulnerabilities -- and. . .we can exploit them." At this point, too, how to manage the second most thorny strategic challenge facing the country (I put Russia first) is a question best left to the incoming administration. The opening of a State Department interests section in Tehran during the last six months of a Bush administration comes across as yet another provocation. The opening of a State Department interests section in Tehran during the first six months of a new administration comes across as an initial feeler. So it's a good idea, but for the wrong reasons at the wrong time.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Quantum War, Quantum Warfare

Dr. iRack over at Abu Muqawama has emerged recently as an authoritative analyst of the Iraq War (and everything that term implies), so I recommend this rundown of the current situation that he posted over the weekend. Without getting too much into the details of his post (which is pretty comprehensive), it's reassuring to see that I'm not the only one who finds it difficult to make any meaningful sense out of the various narratives and counter-narratives that are now coming out of Iraq. Glass half-full or glass half-empty depends to a great deal on the observer.

But I'd venture to say that in many ways, some of them doctrinal and some of them practical, it no longer matters. We've entered a phase, both in the Iraq War and in the theory of warfare in general, that I'd characterize as quantum, where every tactical action has a multiplicity of possible significances and outcomes. And it's only the final strategic outcome that will eventually determine which particular meaning, in retrospect, was the correct one. In this case, the final outcome of a stable, pro-Western Iraq will signal strategic success, and anything else failure. That in turn will allow us to determine which events along the way were decisive and which anecdotal. But progress can no longer be measured with certainty along the way.

The implications for policy are obvious. Interventions must be very carefully weighed from the outset and the desired outcome very clearly identified, because once engaged, they become not only military quagmires, but political ones as well. Victory or defeat will always be just beyond the next car-bombing or IED attack, depending on one's point of view, and the arguments for pressing onward or withdrawing subject to second-guessing. Those conditions were obviously not met with regards to this war. But if we fail to recognize the nature of the changes taking place in warfare itself, it's unlikely that they'll be met with regards to the next one either.

Update: Very good schematic of the Iraqi political landscape by a guest poster over at the other Abu (Aardvark). Again, little in the way of answers, but the questions are noteworthy.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Swedish FISA

It's not easy, but with a little imagination you could probably come up with some sort of category that groups together America, Saudi Arabia and China. Consolation pool for the soccer World Cup, for instance, or a snarky "Friends of the Ozone Layer" award. But toss Sweden in there, and the exercise becomes a bit more challenging. Until you consider that yesterday, Sweden's parliament passed an aggressive surveillance bill that allows its national intelligence agency to scan all telephone and electronic communications that cross the country's borders for key words without a court order:

"By introducing these new measures, the Swedish government is following the examples set by governments ranging from China and Saudi Arabia to the U.S. government's widely criticized eavesdropping program," Google's global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer said.

Proponents justify the measure, which passed by a very close margin, by the terrorist threat. Which brought to mind a remark made by Yves Boyer (one of the analysts I interviewed for last week's Livre Blanc series) on a TV program the other night. He referred to other European countries that have become too lazy to think for themselves strategically, instead adopting the American posture by default. He suggested that might be the case with regards to France's Livre Blanc, and it would be easy to say that's what's going on here with Sweden.

I agree to a certain extent, but I'd also argue that American doctrine is moving towards the French-European position as well, both in terms of military interventions and for domestic counter-terrorism police work. French counter-terrorism measures, for instance, are more muscular than America's, as are England's. (I'm talking about domestic measures, not those carried out in offshore black sites to our great national shame.) So it's possible to argue that Sweden is following that trend as much as our own example.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Global War On Terror   

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Iran Proposal Signals American Shift

In case you haven't seen it yet, ISIS (via Laura Rozen) has posted an English-language version (.pdf) of the EU3+3 Iran proposal I referred to yesterday. And in comparing it to the last concrete offer made in June 2006, it's very clear that the major difference is in the political incentives added to sweeten the deal. Here's the political component, circa 2006:

Support for a new conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues.

Here's the same section from this week's offer:

-Improving the six countries' and the EU's relations with Iran and building up mutual trust.
-Encouragement of direct contact and dialogue with Iran.
-Support Iran in playing an important and constructive role in international affairs.
-Promotion of dialogue and cooperation on non-proliferation, regional security and stabilisation issues.
-Work with Iran and others in the region to encourage confidence-building measures and regional security.
-Establishment of appropriate consultation and cooperation mechanisms.
-Support for a conference on regional security issues.
-Reaffirmation that a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to non-proliferation efforts and to relaizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery.
-Reaffirmation of the obligation under the UN Charter to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.
-Cooperation on Afghnaistan, including on intensified cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking; support for programmes on the return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan; cooperation on reconstruction of Afghanistan; cooperation on guarding the Iran-Afghan border.

I was a little lazy last night about tracking down the 2006 offer, which explains why I called the above a cosmetic change. My bad. There's obviously no guarantee that the negotiations will bear fruit, and the uranium freeze (Iran's red line) is still a pre-condition. But keep in mind that the above paragraph bears Condoleezza Rice's signature on behalf of the United States. That, to me, constitutes at least the suggestion of a pretty broad engagement.

That might explain why Iran has declared that it will examine the proposal carefully. Given that the Ayatollah Khamenei, who will ultimately mae the decision, has already expressed that any engagement with the U.S. would have to wait for the next administration, it's very possible that they'll either play for time or flat out reject it. But this is a pretty big shift, even if it is only one on paper for the time being.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sarkozy's World

If you have an interest in French politics, you probably already know about Art Goldhammer's blog, French Politics. It's the most in depth and intelligent English language treatment of French domestic politics I've seen, equal parts policy analysis and cultural criticism. It's also the principle reason I don't spend more time writing about the subject here.

Art also has a piece on Sarkozy's foreign policy in e-International Relations which dovetails nicely with this week's WPR series on the French strategic posture review. I've seen Sarkozy's method referred to as that of an "avocat d'affaires" before (literally business lawyer, but with a dealmaker connotation). But Art draws the interesting parallel between the emerging global order and the political playing field Sarkozy navigated in his rise to power. There's a method to the madness, and Art does a good job of nailing it down.

As he suggests, the world order taking shape favors Sarkozy's style of working multiple deals simultaneously, although it's easy to imagine circumstances arising that could force his hand and make him pick a side once and for all. In the past, France has always responded by choosing France's side, for better or worse. But with Sarkozy increasingly identifying France as part of the "family of the West," this time might be different.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   La France Politique   

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Interview with Hubert Vedrine

The last installment of the French strategic posture review series is up over at WPR. It's the full text of my interview with former French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine:

WPR: A quick question, off topic. Do you have any observations about the American presidential race?

Vedrine: I think that Bush's departure is going to provoke a huge relief around the world (except maybe in Israel, or in two or three other countries, and even there, I'm not sure). That it's going to create very high expectations with regard to the new president, expectations that will be strong if it's McCain, very strong if it's Hillary Clinton, and giant if it's Obama. Because there's a sort of Obama effect that I explain by the fact that the President of the United States is a little bit the President of the world. More than the Secretary General of the United Nations, in any case. And Obama is a personality who can give the impression that he understands the outside world. That's never happened before. Clinton managed to do it through his intelligence, but Obama gives the impression that he can do so by the path he's taken. So it's not the fact that he's black, that doesn't matter, either negatively or positively. It's the fact of his mixed background, in and of itself. That's an idea that could have an absolutely enormous impact in a large part of the world. And afterwards, there will obviously be a shock, and the higher the expectations, the bigger the shock will be. Because the President of the United States is, after all, the President of the United States. He's not the President of Brazil, or of China. But it could create an absolutely amazing moment.

The rest has to do with Sarkozy's foreign policy, the emerging world order, and France's place in it. Vedrine is a fascinating and gifted thinker, and one of the foreign policy world's "eminences grises". Definitely give it a look.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   La France Politique   

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Intervention Fatigue

I'm not sure about Phil Carter's take on the Madeleine Albright NYTimes op-ed that's generating a good deal of discussion. Here's the key passage from Albright's piece:

. . .And despite recent efforts to enshrine the doctrine of a “responsibility to protect” in international law, the concept of humanitarian intervention has lost momentum.

The global conscience is not asleep, but after the turbulence of recent years, it is profoundly confused. Some governments will oppose any exceptions to the principle of sovereignty because they fear criticism of their own policies. Others will defend the sanctity of sovereignty unless and until they again have confidence in the judgment of those proposing exceptions.

At the heart of the debate is the question of what the international system is. Is it just a collection of legal nuts and bolts cobbled together by governments to protect governments? Or is it a living framework of rules intended to make the world a more humane place?

Carter steers that last question back to a more practical one:

The next president -- whether Obama or McCain -- will have to do more than right the course in Iraq and Afghanistan. He must also decide what to do in places like Darfur, Burma and countries unknown, where both our ideals and interests will beg us to act. Other questions relate to this one, such as the role of international institutions and America's policy on respecting national sovereignty. But the crucial question for our next commander-in-chief will be whether, why and how he employs American power abroad.

Outside of self-defense and treaty obligations, the major arguments for intervention as they have shaped up over the past ten years are humanitarian reasons (liberal hawks), Western values (neocons), and the globalization stability function that's emerging. The arguments aren't necessarily exclusive. Interventions against terrorism, for instance, are defended based on a mixture of self-defense, values (democracy promotion), and stability. In fact, I think the argument can be made that on the level of American domestic opinion they might actually be mutually dependent.

The problem Albright has identified has more to do with the international wariness of American intentions due to the neocons' legacy more than the other two, and while the next president will in fact have to make the decisions Carter enumerates, he will have to do so in the context of a more complex constellation of interests and consensus. (Nikolas Gvosdev has some very interesting thoughts on that here.) Albright has already illustrated the ways in which the former influences the latter. The question Carter leaves out is how the latter will influence the former.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Widening Focus

Part three of the series on France's strategic posture review is up over at WPR. Today's installment explores the widening geographic focus of France's strategic vision:

In assessing the strategic environment to which the Livre Blanc, France's strategic posture review, must respond, none of the French officials and experts interviewed by World Politics Review could really speak with much certainty. Taken together, the conversations we had gave the distinct impression that outside of the stable if evolving configurations of the European Union and the Atlantic alliance, France's emerging strategic vision is driven more by questions than by answers.

Russia's determination to reclaim its former influence presents both opportunities for partnership and more alarming scenarios of conflict, most notably in Central Asia's gas fields. China's rise is considered inevitable, but comes with the possibility of destabilizing effects, both in Asia and further afield. The emerging powers might integrate themselves into a reformed global governance system, or else operate parallel to it should no room be made for their ascension. And the Middle East remains a vector of volatility, with the specter of an Iran with deliverable nuclear weapons looming on the horizon. Bruno Tertrais, research fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, evoked an increased -- if still not great -- risk of a major regional conflict, and added, "The world is more unpredictable than when we prepared the last Livre Blanc in 1994. The idea of a strategic surprise is an idea we have to take more into account in our analysis."

There are some surprising twists, so click through. 

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   La France Politique   

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Crystal Math

I think this is proof that Sudoku will eventually become punishable as a criminal offense. The first time I saw it in an airport bookstore, I recognized Sudoku for what it was, and just said no.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

NATO and European Defense

The second installment of my weeklong series in WPR is up. This one is on Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to reintegrate the NATO command structure, and what it means for European defense:

Since the time of Gen. De Gaulle, France's posture towards the United States can be summed up in the familiar expression, "Friend, ally, non-aligned." A source of French pride and American distrust, the formula has haunted France's historically stormy relationship with NATO, and served as the geopolitical expression of l'exception française, France's cultural identity of exceptionalism. It took on added significance since the emergence of the European Union, of which France was and remains a driving force. The need to balance its two principle relationships -- one a strategic alliance with political implications, the other a political project with strategic implications -- while still maintaining its autonomy to act in its own interests when necessary can be found at the heart of the French foreign policy debate. While no one seriously advocates one pole of the spectrum to the exclusion of the other, the eternal question remains the right dose of each. Which explains why President Sarkozy's proposal to formally reintegrate into the NATO command structure has been the subject of such scrutiny, discussion and debate...

For the rest, click through. And in case you missed part one, it's right here.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   La France Politique   

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Monday, June 9, 2008

No Solutions, No Problem

The funny thing for me about Robert Kagan is that I very rarely ever disagree with his analysis of the problem. It's his solutions that I usually have trouble with. So I really liked this Globalist interview, which is limited to one-sentence responses to analytical questions. I'm having trouble deciding which of these two I like the most. On whether a Barack Obama presidency would fundamentally change American foreign policy:

So long as U.S. power in all its forms is sufficient to shape the behavior of others, the broad direction of U.S. foreign policy is unlikely to change.

And on what the "crux" is for China (whatever that means):

The Chinese have learned that -- while it is possible to have capitalism without political liberalization -- it is much harder to have capitalism without cultural liberalization.

That last point is what I was trying to express in this post about what will happen to China's rise when it exhausts "copy & paste" capitalism and finds itself in desperate need of innovation. But I'm not Kagan, so it took me four paragraphs.

Meanwhile, how funny is it that not only does Kagan live in Brussels, but his wife, Victoria Nuland, is the U.S. ambassador to NATO? (The one who's been touting EU defense recently.) Think he makes her job more difficult from time to time? For that matter, think he needs a royal taster when he goes out to eat? Classic.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Dept. of Proud Plugs

Here's the introduction to a weeklong series of articles going up over at World Politics Review titled, "France's Strategic Posture Review." It's the product of a month's worth of interviews with some of France's leading foreign and defense policy community, and will conclude with the text of an interview of former Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine:

Next week, a commission appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy will unveil France's eagerly awaited White Book on Defense and National Security. The product of months of reviews and fierce debate among France's national security community, the Livre Blanc (as it is known) will largely determine France's strategic posture and military procurement priorities for the coming 15 years. The direct impact of the commission's findings will be felt principally within the French military. But in articulating France's strategic orientation and tactical capabilities, their indirect effect will ripple outward, most immediately within Europe and the NATO alliance, but also beyond.

The commission's work must also be understood in the context of a year which saw President Sarkozy announce his willingness to rejoin the NATO integrated command structure and his desire to renegotiate France's bilateral military treaties on the African continent; the opening of a permanent French military base in the United Arab Emirates; as well as a re-articulation of France's nuclear deterrent policy. Taken as a whole, the developments reinforce the image of a nation engaged in a thorough re-examination of its national security posture. So as much as the commission's final conclusions, which have not yet been officially released even if the broad lines have filtered out, the debates that went into reaching them are in themselves revealing.

I hope you enjoy it, and be sure to pass on the link to anyone you know who might find it interesting.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, June 6, 2008

The Pivot

If you haven't read today's WPR cover piece by Shawn Brimley and Vikram Singh, you should. I've been convinced for a while that more than any individual issues, or even collection of issues, this election is going to boil down to a generational choice. I don't know the demographics of U.S. voters well enough to know who that really favors. That said, the logic of the piece seems to argue for Obama without mentioning his name, although that might not be the authors' intention, and it might be my reading of it. I'm curious to hear from anyone who disagrees.

I remember some discussion about the Bush administration's tendency, in the days before 9/11, to emphasize state-based threats in a way that seemed destined to miss those posed by non-state actors. Obviously state-based threats still exist. But even the Bush administration's response to them, e.g. the idea of "containing" Iran, smacks of a certain strategic anachronism.

Brimley and Singh mention the way young voters experience the world via connectivity, which reminded me of a book I recently started (but have yet to finish) by Harold Innis titled, Empire & Communications. It discusses how the physical form of communication, from stone to clay tablets to papyrus to paper, impacted the organizational structure of the empires that used them. It triggered an undeveloped thought that, in some way, states will need to adapt the way in which they wield strategic power to the communication structure of the internet: rapid, fleeting nodes of hyperlinks, quickly dispersing only to reform elsewhere. This election seems like as good a place to start as any.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Politics   

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Don't Get M.A.D. at Iran

Sam Roggeveen at The Interpeter (another new addition to the blogroll) makes some good points about Iran's nuclear weaponization program. (Although the only time there was a "D" in Grunstein was back when I was playing pickup ball in NY. No harm, no foul, Sam.) As Sam rightly notes, as important as Iran's intentions (which we can neither prove nor disprove, and which are subject to change) is the fact that any possible weapons capacity is significantly delayed by freezing the weaponization component of their program. That's what's known as a window of opportunity, no matter how slight the opening, and we would be very foolish if we didn't explore every possibility it offers with the utmost seriousness of purpose.

I mentioned the reasons why, even if Iran is deterrable (and I believe it is), an Iranian bomb would be a disaster. But I've always been surprised by how flippant so many people are to the idea of nuclear deterrance as an acceptable outcome of this crisis. My generation is the last to have grown up through young adulthood under the weight of M.A.D., and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Indeed, one of the most exciting promises that grew out of the fall of the Soviet Union was the idea that it would finally be relegated to the dustbin of history. Noah Shachtman at Danger Room reminds us of why.

Instead, M.A.D. has found a new home in South Asia, with all the alarming scenarios that represents. The Middle East makes for an even more worrisome threat environment. In the absence of the necessary trust, President Bush's declarations that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable sound like bellicose threats. That doesn't make them less true. Hopefully the next American president can establish the kind of dialogue necessary to convince the Iranians of that as well.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

America's Obama Moment

I'm pretty deep in the weeds of a series of articles for WPR, and time has been in short supply the past few weeks, so I've let a few stories slip by without much comment. I'm thinking particularly of Barack Obama sealing the Democratic nomination, but there's also the gay marriage ruling in California, and some others that I'm probably overlooking. I'll try to get some of my thoughts organized and posted over the weekend, and even that might be unrealistic.

But with regards to Obama, I just wanted to acknowledge a moment, one that is the result of generations of hard work, enormous sacrifice, and deep commitment to what is essentially the greatest single American contribution to humankind's collective heritage of ideals. The past few weeks have seen a lot of talk of service to our country, and a lot of it has focused on military service. But just as many have paid for liberty with their lives on foreign shores, so too have many lost their lives in the effort to bring America in line with her highest ideals of justice and equality here at home. Not all of them wore uniforms.

Even though that struggle continues, it's important to appreciate today's victories. Barack Obama is a very special individual who has accomplished something that not many of us imagined was possible even six months ago. Regardless of the outcome this November, that's already a victory for all of us, and for everyone who dreamed, struggled and believed before us.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Race In America   

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Iran's Nuclear Intentions

Adam Blickstein is right in arguing that restoring the intelligence community's credibility will be essential to the ability of any future presidential administration to mobilize public opinion for a necessary intervention. Whether or not that's possible in an age of "all info ops, all the time" remains to be seen. There will always be both known and unknown gaps in our intelligence, and how they are used to drive policy is often an essentially political decision. Jeffrey Lewis, in a post I flagged yesterday, called attention to the different ways in which the Clinton and Bush administrations assessed a known gap in intelligence on North Korea. The divergence in their conclusions has as much to do with political considerations as with the longterm strategic cost-benefit analysis.

A good place to start, though, would be in not purposely distorting the known intelligence, for instance, about Iran's nuclear program, as Matthew Yglesias points out in an entertaining post here. That said, it's important to be precise about what the NIE said and didn't say (.pdf), and what we can and can't know about Iran's intentions. The NIE said that Iran has halted the weaponization component of its nuclear program. Most opponents of a war with Iran in particular and the Bush administration's disastrous Iran policy in general latched onto that to argue that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.

There are two problems with that argument, despite its apparent tautology. To begin with, the production of a deployable nuclear weapon depends on a number of components: weapons grade fissile material, a delivery system, and the actual implosion device necessary to set off the atomic reaction, among others. The NIE basically stated that Iran decided to freeze the last component, probably in response to heightened international concern and pressure. But Iran is still developing the first two components, and they are still just as applicable to any eventual nuclear design. It's the equivalent of building a car frame, refining gasoline, and discontinuing the program that was developing the internal combustion engine.

From everything I've read, the actual weaponization device is not the most arduous part of the process. The uranium enrichment is. Which means that while Iran is no longer developing nuclear weapons, the question of whether it is still pursuing them boils down to its intentions. The fact that it had a weaponization program to begin with leaves little doubt as to its initial intentions. But here's what the NIE had to say about Iran's current intentions:

. . .we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

There's also this:

Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications—some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.

Finally there's this:

We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.

It's important to push back against any distortions of the intelligence, but it's counterproductive to push back to the point of distorting to the opposite extreme. I advocate engaging Iran, because I think that whatever eventual concessions we might mutually make would be strategically less costly than an armed intervention. But we shouldn't be naive. We're dealing with a hostile country harboring adversarial regional ambitions that has been opaque in developing its nuclear program and has a history of nuclear weapons intentions. There are also a variety of regional stability concerns and broader non-proliferation principles that would be jeopardized by an eventual Iranian nuclear weapons capacity, even if Iran itself is deterrable. 

That makes for a much more complicated strategic problem to resolve in just about every possible way. But reality usually does.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Monday, June 2, 2008

The Big Four Oh

They call it the new thirty, but the last thing on Earth I'd want to do is double back and do thirty again. Seriously, everyone said it would hit me when it happened. But today it happened and, so far, I ain't been hit. The only bummer is that five years ago I decided that once I turned forty, I could start smoking a pipe (flat-stem, Georges Simenon-style) without looking ridiculous. But it's been four years since I definitively quit smoking, so that's out. Any ideas for something you can start doing at forty that would be ridiculous anytime before? A friend suggested prostate exams, but there must be something better.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Brussels-izing Globalization

Hampton makes some really good points here. I'd quibble with the claim that globalization is about economic liberty, so much as economic deregulation. I'd also make a distinction between "Brussels" the idea, as opposed to Brussels the reality. How accurately the anti-democratic, technocratic image of the former matches the reality of the latter is subject to debate. But there's enough truth to it to make it resonate strongly in public opinion, and resentment of it certainly drove opposition to the 2005 Constitutional Treaty, and is doing so with the Treaty of Lisbon today.

I failed to make it clear in my post, but when I referred to the "small villages across the continent that are increasingly being transformed by globalization," I actually had the EU common market (ie. "Brussels" and the continent-wide "mini-globalization") in mind as much as the broader globalization phenomenon. Sometimes, of course, it gets hard to separate the two. In the village where I lived in Provence, the wealthy English, Dutch and Belgian second-home owners who had transformed the life and culture of the village (and who in many ways represented "Brussels," at least symbolically) had for the most part gotten wealthy off of globalized commercial activity. From the LA Times article, it seems that in Ireland, the second-home owners are Irish. But resentment of "Brussels" seems to overlap with a resentment of outsiders responsible for a lost way of life in the opposition to the Treaty.

One final thought about the broader globalization backlash that I referred to. As it gathers, it's almost sure to express itself in a call for stronger regulation, whether of the ecological, national security (e.g. protected industries) or social variety. In other words, one of the ways that the developed economies will begin to strategically defend themselves against the wealth and power transfers of the globalized economy will be the "Brussels-ization" of the globalized governance system. Won't that be fun?

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Rolling Back AFRICOM

I always feel a sense of satisfaction when the mainstream press catches up to a story that WPR has been out ahead of, like the scaling back of AFRICOM (here from a few weeks back in the CSM, and here from today in the WaPo and over at Phil Carter's Intel Dump). It's a fascinating story that combines a novel vision of an interagency military command with some highminded operational objectives, and throws them headlong into the wall of Africa's political realities, both historical and contemporary.

There's a lot going on here, and while AFRICOM is being downgraded to a more modest enterprise for now, I've got a hunch we'll be hearing more about it, if only as a prototype for the hybrid model of the future. What I find most concerning is that after initial efforts to create a truly interagency command structure, the final version features a military command with integrated, but apparently subordinate, civil components. That seems to represent less a desire of the Pentagon's civilian leadership than of the civilian branches that prioritize funding.

Most of the pushback against the Army's newly minted COIN doctrine has centered around its impact on classical warfighting capabilities. My own qualms have more to do with the way they militarize what in essence are civilian humanitarian functions, either outright or by appropriation. The more our humanitarian operational resources get fitted with military camo, the more likely we'll be to seek out warzones to stabilize, while ignoring other humanitarian priorities that don't require up-armored vehicles and interagency PRT's.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

An Eleventh Reason

Anyone feeling a bit uneasy about Barack Obama's chances come November against John McCain would do well to read Gerry Scorse's guest post over at Voices of Reason, 10 Reasons Obama Breezes in November. I'm already on record as saying that Obama is going to win easily, so I'm glad to see I'm in such good company. I'd just emphasize one thing that Gerry mentions obliquely. I think that the generational turning point presented by this election is really going to take on a much greater significance than people realize yet. And that's not just a way of saying that John McCain is old, and will appear even more so when appearing side by side with Barack Obama. Among other things, Obama represents a changing of the guard that corresponds to a general societal trend, both in America and abroad. Take a look at the G8 group and you'll see what I mean. Even if you allow for the addition of Silvio Berlusconi, John McCain just doesn't fit in. I think that once voters in the 30-55 year old range hear Obama explain his vision of national security, in particular, in a contemporary language that is at once both familiar and convincing, McCain is finished.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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