One of the sillier things that U.S. leaders have done over the past year or so is to formally reject a policy of "containment" or deterrence with respect to Iran. AIPAC pushed this position last year (in the form of a non-binding resolution sponsored by Senator Lindsay Graham), but even President Obama eventually had to go along. And then he sent Vice President Joe Biden to tell AIPAC that the U.S. wasn't bluffing.
Apart from pandering to the bomb Iran crowd, the apparent purpose behind such statements is to convince Iran that the United States simply couldn't live with an Iranian nuclear weapons capability and that they had better make damn sure they don't try to get one. Such rhetoric might make sense as a negotiating tactic -- though it's hardly guaranteed to work -- but it tells you exactly nothing about what the United States would or should do in the event that Iran one day crosses the nuclear weapons threshold. To see this, consider the following hypothetical.
Suppose there were a massive intelligence failure on the part of the IAEA and all of America's intelligence agencies and that Iran had a totally secret nuclear weapons development program. (This is precisely the scenario that hawks routinely warn about, by the way, especially whenever National Intelligence Estimates reach more optimistic conclusions). Suppose further that we got up one morning next week and discovered that Iran had successfully tested a nuclear bomb. And then suppose Iran provided us with additional information demonstrating that they had already manufactured a dozen more and that we had no idea where they were hidden. In short, imagine that the hawks' worst fears had all come true and that the Islamic Republic had become a nuclear weapons state overnight.
What do you suppose we would do? Would President Obama (or anyone else) immediately order a preventive war? Not on your life, because he could not be sure that Iran wouldn't find some way to get a bomb on American soil or use it against some close U.S. ally. Would Obama immediately announce a blockade or threaten an invasion, in order to persuade Iran to voluntarily give up its weapons? Hardly, because we couldn't put enough pressure on them to force compliance. Would the U.S. decide to abandon its regional allies and let Iran dominate the Persian Gulf? Of course not -- for the same reasons that it didn't abandon NATO when the Soviets tested a bomb in 1949 and it didn't abandon Japan and South Korea when China and North Korea tested nuclear weapons.
No, if Iran ever did cross the nuclear weapons threshold, the United States would do what it has always done when an adversary went nuclear: It would fall back on containment and deterrence. We would extend our far more potent nuclear umbrella over key regional allies, and we would send clear and unmistakable messages to Tehran about the dire consequences that would befall them if their new arsenal were ever used by anyone. Getting a bomb wouldn't transform Iran into a global superpower, and it certainly wouldn't allow them to blackmail their neighbors or launch a war of conquest. The only thing this situation would prevent the United States from doing is forcible regime change, which is something we shouldn't be contemplating in any case.
This situation would not be ideal, which is why I favor intelligent diplomacy that reduces Iran's incentive to acquire a deterrent. There are a number of good reasons why Tehran would prefer to stay on the safe side of the nuclear threshold, and there are a number of obvious ways that the United States could make that choice even more attractive, such as taking the threat of regime change "off-the-table." But declaring that Washington will never use containment or deterrence isn't credible, because these options are always there if we need them, and they make a lot more sense than the alternatives. In this regard the United States is bluffing, and the main risk is that they will feel compelled to follow through if the bluff gets called.
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Hu Jintao is simultaneously President of China,
General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and chairman of China's
Central Military Commission. Last year Newsweek labeled him the "second most powerful
man in the world," and he has undoubtedly watched the events of the past few years
with keen interest and no small amount of satisfaction. Here's what I imagine
he's thinking these days...
"We are realists here in the People's Republic, and in a sense we have been for centuries. Even during the most radical phases of our history -- such as the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution -- our foreign policy was prudent and keenly attuned to the balance of power.
The United States has had the world's largest economy for more than a century, and despite some self-inflicted wounds, it is still the world's most powerful country. We recognize this fact, and our current strategy of "peaceful rise" reflects what we have learned by studying the U.S. experience. America became a great world power by remaining aloof from the quarrels of the other major powers and letting them destroy each other in ruinous wars, while it built its own economic strength and gradually established itself as the dominant power in its own region. When it did fight wars, it picked weak and easily defeated opponents or it waited until the last minute to get involved in wars with other great powers. The United States was the last major power to enter both World War I and World War II, and it made sure that other states bore the heaviest burdens during the fighting. As a result, both wars ended with the United States in the strongest position.
Our strategy of "peaceful rise" reflects a similar set of calculations. We want to stay out of pointless quarrels with others and avoid costly military commitments, at least until our economic strength equals that of America. For this reason, we are happy to let the United States take the lead in troubled regions like the Middle East or Central Asia. Why shouldn't we want them to squander their strength trying to fix intractable global problems, while we retain good relations with all parties? It just makes sense.
I do miss President George W. Bush, of course. We had good relations with the
United States while he was president, and he even came to visit us during our
probably should have thanked him personally for all the foolish things
he did, like letting Bin Laden and the
Taliban slip through his fingers in Afghanistan and then invading Iraq
in 2003. He did cultivate closer ties with India and that development didn't
make me happy, but on the whole, his threats and bluster frightened
many U.S. allies and
made U.S. relations with states like Iran even worse than they were
to say, these policies created valuable opportunities for China, and
we've been quick to take advantage of them. While
America was distracted and wasting hundreds of billions occupying hostile
countries -- we were
establishing profitable commercial ties in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and quietly
expanding our influence in our own Asian backyard.
President Bush also helped us by presiding over scandals such as Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina, and the treatment of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. To be frank, I never understood why some Americans are so obsessed with protecting "rights." In fact, I was pleased to discover that former Vice President Cheney agrees with me; he understands how a strong executive deals with potential troublemakers! I sometimes think he'd make a good Vice President here.
Anyway, the good news for us is that these events made the United States look both incompetent and hypocritical
and made it harder for Washington to criticize my own domestic policies.
I owe former president Bush a real debt of gratitude; I should probably call him and
I confess that I wanted John McCain to win the 2008 election, because I thought he would keep America on the same failed course. And having someone like Governor Palin as Vice President was almost too much to hope for. So naturally I was worried when Barack Obama got elected; he seemed smart and level-headed and is obviously a gifted politician. He's much more charismatic than Bush and to be frank, he's a lot more charismatic than I am. So I asked myself: Would he be able reverse America's recent missteps and restore its international reputation? And at first, it seemed like he might do just that.
But now I'm not so concerned.
President Obama may have good instincts and intentions, but his aides
don't seem to be giving him very good advice. He is going to get most U.S. troops
out of Iraq (a smart move for him, but not so good for me) but he's getting a
lot of pressure to put more troops and money into Afghanistan. I hope he does, because that will leave
the United States with fewer resources to devote to containing China. Moreover, President Obama doesn't seem to be making any headway
with Iran or the Middle East peace process, and failure there will make that
big speech in Cairo look rather silly. Obama
also wants China and India and other developing countries to make big
concessions on greenhouse gas emissions, but he's having trouble getting his
own Congress to adopt a serious program and I doubt we'll face much genuine
pressure at the upcoming summit in Copenhagen. That's a relief.
And I can't help smiling to myself whenever I think about America's domestic political system. Americans like to lecture China about the importance of "free speech" and other quaint Western concepts, but at least I don't have to deal with madmen spouting nonsense on television and radio and special interest groups making it impossible to enact reforms that the nation as a whole badly needs. I may have some minor problems in Xinjiang, but I hear states like California are rapidly becoming ungovernable and that the universities we used to envy are losing their edge. I even hear that Harvard isn't so rich anymore. This makes me smile too, because a well-educated population is the key to future power and a society that is content to be ignorant cannot remain a world power for long.
Meanwhile, my economy is beginning to grow rapidly again, while the United States piles up debt and lots of people there are looking for work. I do like that nice young Treasury Secretary; he understands that he needs my help to keep the world economy afloat and he isn't going to try to browbeat us very much. The silly new tariff on imported tires is annoying and we will of course issue a loud protest, but even that reactionary magazine The Economist said it was "bad politics, bad economics, bad diplomacy, and hurts America."
So from where I sit, the view looks pretty good. America likes to say that it is the "leader of the free world" and I'm happy to let them have that title -- for now -- provided they stay focused on other issues and let China's peaceful rise continue. The more "global leadership" they insist upon taking, the more resources they will expend, the faster they will decline, and the sooner we will be in a position to supplant them.
I do have one lingering concern, however. America's leaders may come to their senses, and go back to the unsentimental realism that guided their rise to greatness in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They might discover what Sun Tzu taught -- "There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare" -- and stop insisting on bearing all the world's burdens themselves. But then I remember what their foreign policy "debate" is like, and I recall that both Democrats and Republicans seem equally eager to interfere all over the world, and suddenly that danger doesn't seem very great. In fact, the future looks bright."
MAYELA LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
A couple of days ago, I posted an entry about the new Kagan/Kristol "Foreign Policy Initiative." After noting that the neoconservative approach to foreign policy had produced a disastrous war in Iraq and undermined America's image around the world, I wrote that "Neoconservatives also helped derail efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thereby strengthening Hamas, threatening Israel's future, and further damaging America's global position."
Via Christian Brose, I received the following message from Robert Kagan, who writes:
The claim that I worked against a two-state solution in the Middle East is a complete fabrication. I have literally never written or spoken on the subject."
Fair enough. I did not say that Kagan himself opposed a two-state solution, but the juxtaposition was misleading and I'm happy to correct the record.
At the same time, Kagan’s statement raises an obvious question: what are his views on a two-state solution? He has been a prolific commentator on U.S. foreign policy in recent years -- including our Middle East policy -- yet he has apparently remained silent on one of the most important issues that shapes our entire approach to the region. A two-state solution has been the official goal of the past three U.S. Presidents -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama -- and I'd be curious to know if Kagan agrees with them. He and his fellow neoconservatives also favor the vigorous use of American power to achieve stated foreign policy objectives. So here's my question: Does Kagan favor the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, and does he think the United States should use its considerable leverage with both sides to bring that result about?
I was thinking about two former American government employees this weekend, and how the differences between them tell us a lot about why the United States is in so much trouble today.
The first person is Eugene Kranz, the legendary NASA flight director immortalized in the film Apollo 13. I watched a rerun of the film on Friday night, and was struck again by his remarkable leadership of the team that improvised the astronauts' rescue after an in-flight explosion crippled their spacecraft and placed their lives in peril. Many readers probably remember the moment in the film when Kranz tells his colleagues: "Failure is not an option." This line may have been apocryphal, but when I survey the landscape of problems we face at home and abroad, I wish we had more people like Kranz in key leadership positions.
Yes I know, it's just a movie, but Ed Harris's portrayal is consistent with what we know about Kranz himself. Above all, Kranz was a leader who took full responsibility for his actions. Here's what he told his colleagues after the tragic fire on the launching pad of Apollo 1, a fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee:
Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we... Not one of us stood up and said, 'Dammit, stop!'...We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. ... From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: 'Tough' and 'Competent.' Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do...Competent means we will never take anything for granted...When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write 'Tough and Competent' on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control."
That is the kind of attitude that lands men on the moon, builds a healthy economy, and when necessary, wins wars.
Now compare that frank and honest statement with the behavior of another former government employee: Richard Perle. In a recent article in The National Interest and a public appearance at the Nixon Center, Perle has tried to sell the story that neither he nor his fellow neoconservatives had any significant influence on the foreign policy of the Bush administration, and especially the decision to invade Iraq. Specifically, he denounces the supposedly "false claim that the decision to remove Saddam, and Bush policies generally, were made or significantly influenced by a few neoconservative 'ideologues.'" He suggests that no one has ever documented this claim, either conveniently ignoring the many books and articles that did exactly that, or misrepresenting what these works actually say.
Given that Iraq turned into a debacle that the United States is having trouble escaping, it is hardly surprising that Perle is denying his role now. But that's not what he said back when the war looked more promising. In an interview with journalist George Packer, recounted in the latter's book The Assassins' Gate, Perle described the key role that the neoconservatives played in making the Iraq War happen.
If Bush had staffed his administration with a group of people selected by Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker, which might well have happened, then it could have been different, because they would not have carried into the ideas that the people who wound up in important positions brought to it."
The "people who wound up in important positions" were key neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others, who had been openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and who used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they "bamboozled" Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11. As neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan later admitted, he and his fellow neoconservatives were successful in part because they had a "ready-made approach to the world" that seemed to provide an answer to the challenges the U.S. faced after 9/11.
The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won't be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider -- as is the case with Perle -- what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?
Let's keep a few facts in mind. Perle and his neoconservative buddies helped develop and sell a policy that has left over 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead and more than 30,000 wounded, was directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and will end up costing the United States more than a trillion dollars. Yet instead of having the integrity and courage to acknowlege his role and admit his mistakes -- as an honest man like Gene Kranz would -- Perle now offers us a squid's ink cloud of lies and prevarications. Although his absurd claims have been promptly and properly challenged, does anyone seriously think he will pay a larger price? The National Interest was all-too-willing to publish his rewriting of the historical record, and no doubt prestigious organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations will be happy to give him a platform at future meetings. Look for him on the Lehrer Newshour and CNN too; heck, he could even end up with his own show on Fox News.
Let's face it: there is little or no accountability in Washington, where being wrong means never having to say you're sorry; indeed, you don't even have to admit responsibility for past mistakes, no matter how serious. It's just the American taxpayer who ends up footing the bill, along with the soldiers who fought and died for these blunders.
As Frank Rich and others have figured out, we are in trouble today because we have allowed a culture of corruption and dishonesty to permeate our institutions and pollute our public discourse. Until that changes -- until our public institutions contain a lot more truth-tellers like Gene Kranz and fewer liars like Richard Perle -- we are not going to know where we stand, where we are headed, or whom to trust.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
President Obama has decided to increase the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by roughly 17,000 troops over the next few months. The increase will begin with an initial deployment of 8,000 Marines in the next few weeks, to be followed by subsequent deployments of an Army brigade of 4,000 troops and about 5,000 support troops next summer.
This is a fateful decision. Yes, I know; he promised that he would do this during the campaign, but ignoring campaign promises is a time-honored tradition and I can't help feeling like this was one issue where a rethink was called for. Instead of being just another one of George Bush's mishandled legacies, Afghanistan will now become Obama's war. If increasing U.S. forces doesn't work, he will face pressure to do still more, and he will incur the political costs of any subsequent failure.
As other commentators have noted, what's missing in the announcement is a clear statement of U.S. strategy. To begin with, as William Pfaff notes here, it is not clear what our present goal is. Are we trying to bolster President Karzai, and do we still hope to build a stable democracy there? Is our real objective to defeat the Taliban once-and-for-all and eradicate poppy growing while we're at it? Is the objective the long-term delegitimation of the central Asian strains of Islamic extremism, and the encouragement of more moderate forms of Islamic observance? Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has already told Congress that we are not trying to create "some kind of Central Asian Valhalla" (which is both realistic and smart), but that still leaves a lot of other possibilities open.
In fact, we have only one vital national interest in Afghanistan: to prevent Afghan territory from being used as a safe haven for groups plotting attacks on American soil or on Americans abroad, as al Qaeda did prior to September 11. It might be nice to achieve some other goals too (such as economic development, better conditions for women, greater political participation, etc.), but these goals are neither vital to U.S. national security nor central to the future of freedom in the United States or elsewhere. Deep down, we don't (or shouldn't) care very much who governs in Afghanistan, provided they don't let anti-American bad guys use their territory to attack us. As I recall, President Bush was even willing to let the Taliban stay in power in 2001 if they had been willing to hand us Osama and his henchmen.
Second, it is not clear what the additional troops are going to do once they get there. In Iraq, we faced a mostly urban-based insurgency, and the so-called "surge" focused primarily on stabilizing Baghdad. By contrast, the Taliban is a rural movement, and an additional 17,000 troops (or even 30,000), won't be enough to provide reliable protection for the Afghan people. And as Juan Cole and Rory Stewart have warned, using U.S. and NATO troops to eradicate opium poppies or to engage in other forms of social engineering is likely to provoke a local backlash and make the Taliban even more popular.
Going forward, here are some critical things to watch:
1. Do the United States and its allies devote more resources to training the Afghan national army, and do these efforts succeed? If so, then we ought to follow the Iraq model and turn the country back to the Afghans as quickly as we can.
2. Is Obama able to persuade our NATO allies to increase their own efforts there, or will they mostly free-ride on Uncle Sam? (And watch out for token deployments intended to signal that the rest of NATO is with us on this one, but that have no real effect on the ground).
3. Can Obama (or more precisely, Richard Holbrooke) get Pakistan to do more to deny safe havens in Pakistan's frontier areas? If not, more U.S. troops on one side of the border won't have much effect. Does the recent ceasefire in the Swat Valley generate a backlash against the extremists who are imposing Shariah (as my FP colleague Thomas Ricks hopes), or do these groups continue to extend their sway?
4. President Karzai is increasingly seen as the weak leader of one of the most corrupt regimes in the world. Was this new commitment of U.S. troops linked to specific changes in Karzai's policies, or did we just do this on our own? My understanding is that the surge in Iraq also involved pressuring Prime Minister Maliki to crack down on both Shiite and Sunni militias (rather than just the latter), a decision that helped reduce violence and may even have enhanced his own legitimacy somewhat. Before we decided to up the ante in Afghanistan, did we get some a clear commitment to reform from Karzai, and do we think he has to backbone to pull it off? If not, we're in trouble. Do the names Ngo Dinh Diem or Nguyen van Thieu ring any bells?
Given Central Asia's potential to become the bottomless pit of American foreign and military policy, I hope Obama's decision pays off. But it's hard to have much confidence at this stage, until we know what the objective is and why he thinks adding more troops is going to get us there.
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A quick follow-up to Tuesday's post about U.S. options if the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes unworkable.
Several commenters suggested that even the presence of 500,000+ Israeli settlers outside the 1967 border is not an insurmountable obstacle to a two-state solution, because even that large number could be moved back to Israel in the context of a peace deal or and the majority of the settlers could actually be incorporated inside a redrawn border with the Palestinians receiving land of equal value in some sort of swap. This is certainly true in theory, but it gets harder with each additional settler and as Israeli opinion shifts rightward. Hamas' growing popularity is obviously another significant obstacle, and these two trends are reinforcing each other right now. Nothing is impossible in politics, I guess, but movement is in the wrong direction at present and it is hard for me to imagine it reversing in the absence of strong outside pressure.
Matt Yglesias suggests I may be underestimating Israel's ability to retain U.S. support even if the two-state solution is abandoned and Israel creates a de facto apartheid state. He may be right -- especially in the short term -- but it is going to be a much harder sell, because this outcome is so at odds with American values and because discourse on these topics is becoming more open, even among Israel's supporters here in the United States. Matt himself is a good example of this phenomenon, and he's not alone. He's correct that the United States tolerated apartheid in South Africa for a long time and for a host of not-very-convincing Cold War reasons, but we weren't sending South Africa billions of dollars of aid every year and the geopolitical consequences of that policy were not as significant. (Southern Africa was never as important a strategic interest as the Middle East is). Over time, it will hard to sustain the current "special relationship" if the apartheid scenario comes to pass, and all the more so once the Arab population of greater Israel exceeds the Jewish population. That's the scenario that Prime Minister Olmert has been warning against, and it ought to be giving fresh energy to our diplomatic efforts now. It is this scenario that has motivated groups like J Street, and more hardline organizations like AIPAC ought to be thinking hard about it too and reconsidering their own positions.
The question is: what can they do to help Israel achieve a genuine and workable two-state solution and thus avoid all these worrisome alternatives?
For advice on what Obama should do, check out Ben-Gurion University professor Neve Gordon's new essay in The Nation. I'd be more optimistic if the new administration didn't have too much on their plate already. Obama's team doesn't just need to prove they can walk and chew gum at the same time; sometimes it looks like they need to walk, chew gum, juggle three eggs, compose a string quartet, dance a jig (or if you prefer, the hora), cook a five-course banquet, rotate the tires, wind-surf, and play slide guitar -- all at once.
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Lots of smart people have been focusing on the Israeli elections and trying to make sense of their immediate implications for the peace process. I can’t improve on the analyses provided by Glenn Greenwald, Yossi Alpher, Bernard Avishai, or Uri Avnery, who explain why there is little reason to be optimistic and many reasons to be worried.
I want to focus on a different issue, which is likely to be more important in the long run.
It's this: What do we do if a "two-state solution" becomes impossible?
During the past 10 years, the "two-state solution" has been the mantra of most moderates involved in the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni say they want it, and so does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The 2007 Arab League peace plan envisions two states living side by side, and George W. Bush and Condi Rice repeatedly said that a two-state solution was their goal too (although they did precious little to achieve it). Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton all say they are going to push hard for it now. I might add that the two-state solution is also my preferred option.
Interestingly, this moderate consensus in favor of two states is itself a fairly new development. The 1993 Oslo Accords do not talk explicitly about a Palestinian state, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the agreement, never endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state in public. And when First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke about the need for a Palestinian state back in 1998, she was roundly criticized, and the White House promptly distanced itself from her remarks. In fact, Bill Clinton didn't endorse the idea of a Palestinian state until his last month in office. The mainstream "consensus" behind this solution is in fact a relatively recent creation.
Today, invoking the "two-state" mantra allows moderates to sound reasonable and true to the ideals of democracy and self-determination; but it doesn't force them to actually do anything to bring that goal about. Indeed, defending the two-state solution has become a recipe for inaction, a fig leaf that leaders can utter at press conferences while ignoring the expanding settlements and road networks on the West Bank that are rendering it impossible. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a perfect illustration: He has lately become an eloquent voice in favor of two states, warning of the perils that Israel will face if the two-state option is not adopted. Yet his own government continued to expand the settlements and undermine Palestinian moderates, thereby putting the solution Olmert supposedly favors further away than ever, and maybe even making it unworkable.
There are two trends at play that threaten to undermine the two-state option. The first is the continued expansion of Israel settlements in the land that is supposed to be reserved for the Palestinians. There are now about 290,000 settlers living in the West Bank. There are another 185,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. Most of the settlers are subsidized directly or indirectly by the Israeli government. It is increasingly hard to imagine Israel evicting nearly half a million people (about 7 percent of its population) from their homes. Although in theory one can imagine a peace deal that keeps most of the settlers within Israel's final borders (with the new Palestinian state receiving land of equal value as compensation), at some point the settlers' efforts to "create facts" will make it practically impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state.
The second trend is the growing extremism on both sides. Time is running out on a two-state solution, and its main opponents -- the Likud Party and its allies in Israel, and Hamas among the Palestinians -- are becoming more popular. The rising popularity of Avigdor Lieberman's overtly racist Yisrael Beiteinu party is ample evidence of this trend. And it's not as though Kadima or Labor have been pushing hard to bring it about. According to Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times:
The result is that the next Israeli government, left to its own devices, is likely to opt for the status quo with the Palestinians - continued occupation of the West Bank, desultory peace talks, steadily expanding settlements and military force in response to Palestinian rockets or bombs. The long-term pursuit of a two-state solution will be brushed aside, with the argument that the Palestinians are too divided and dangerous to be negotiating partners."
One does not need to look far down the road to see the point where a two-state solution will no longer be a practical possibility. What will the United States do then? What will American policy be when it makes no sense to talk about a two-state solution, because Israel effectively controls all of what we used to call Mandate Palestine? What vision will President Obama and Secretary Clinton have for the Palestinians and for Israel when they can no longer invoke the two-state mantra?
There are only three alternative options at that point. First, Israel could drive most or all of the 2.5 million Palestinians out of the West Bank by force, thereby preserving "greater Israel" as a Jewish state through an overt act of ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians would surely resist, and it would be a crime against humanity, conducted in full view of a horrified world. No American government could support such a step, and no true friend of Israel could endorse that solution.
Second, Israel could retain control of the West Bank but allow the Palestinians limited autonomy in a set of disconnected enclaves, while it controlled access in and out, their water supplies, and the airspace above them. This appears to have been Ariel Sharon's strategy before he was incapacitated, and Bibi Netanyahu's proposal for "economic peace" without a Palestinian state seems to envision a similar outcome. In short, the Palestinians would not get a viable state of their own and would not enjoy full political rights. This is the solution that many people -- including Prime Minister Olmert -- compare to the apartheid regime in South Africa. It is hard to imagine the United States supporting this outcome over the long term, and Olmert has said as much. Denying the Palestinians their own national aspirations is also not going to end the conflict.
Which brings me to the third option. The Israeli government could maintain its physical control over "greater Israel" and grant the Palestinians full democratic rights within this territory. This option has been proposed by a handful of Israeli Jews and a growing number of Palestinians. But there are formidable objections to this outcome: It would mean abandoning the Zionist dream of an independent Jewish state, and binational states of this sort do not have an encouraging track record, especially when the two parties have waged a bitter conflict across several generations. This is why I prefer the two-state alternative.
But if a two-state option is no longer feasible, it seems likely that the United States would come to favor this third choice. After all, supporting option 2 -- an apartheid state -- is contrary to the core American values of freedom and democracy and would make the United States look especially hypocritical whenever it tried to present itself as a model for the rest of the world. Openly endorsing apartheid would also demolish any hope we might have of improving our image in the Arab and Islamic world. Lord knows I have plenty of respect for the Israel lobby's ability to shape U.S. foreign policy, but even AIPAC and the other heavyweight institutions in the lobby would have great difficulty maintaining the "special relationship" if Israel was an apartheid state. By contrast, option 3 -- a binational state that provided full democratic rights for citizens of all ethnic and religious backgrounds -- is easy to reconcile with America's own “melting pot” traditions and liberal political values. American politicians would find it a hard option to argue against.
Bottom line: If the two-state solution dies, as seems increasingly likely, the United States is going to face a very awkward set of choices. That’s one reason why Obama and his team -- as well as Israel's friends in the United States -- should move beyond paying lip-service to the idea of creating a Palestinian state and actually do something about it. But it's hard to be optimistic that they will.
And while I'm at it, here's one more heretical thought. Shouldn't someone in the U.S. government start thinking about what our policy should be in the event that the two-state solution collapses? Starting to contemplate this possibility is risky, of course, because it might undermine our efforts to create two states if it became known that we were beginning to plan for an alternative future. But the fact is that we may face that future before too much longer. If so, then it might be a good idea if somebody began thinking about how to deal with it now, so that we don’t have to invent a new approach on the fly.
Yesterday's New York Times contained three interesting items that deserve to be read together. Taken as a whole, they tell you a lot about the fundamental challenge facing Barack Obama.
The first item was Frank Rich's op-ed column, a jeremiad about Washington's insider culture. Rich nicely describes a world where out-of-touch elites with the right connections continue to enjoy ready access to power. Rich focuses his attention on Tom Daschle's fall from grace and the prominent role of economic advisors "who are either alumni of the financial bubble's insiders club or of the somnambulant governmental establishment that presided over the catastrophe." His broader point, however, is that Washington is infused with a culture of non-accountability and intellectual incest that helps explain why so many policy initiatives are ill-conceived or ineptly executed, or both.
The second article was a page 1 profile of special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who is now Obama's point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke is a long-time Washington insider who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and was the driving force behind the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian civil war. (He was also managing editor of Foreign Policy back in the 1970s). Since 2001, he has been vice-chairman of Perseus LLC, a Manhattan-based private equity firm. According to the article, "During the Bush years, Perseus was Mr. Holbrooke's base, providing him with what friends say was a relatively undemanding job and lavish compensation as he bounced from topic to topic, almost as if seeking a problem tough enough to rivet all of his attention." Unfortunately, one of the topics he landed on was the invasion of Iraq, which he strongly supported. Holbrooke said Colin Powell's infamous U.N. Security Council speech "documenting" Iraq's fictitious WMD programs (an episode Powell later recalled as the "lowest moment of his life") was "a masterful job of diplomacy." While critical of the Bush administration's pre-war diplomacy, Holbrooke nonetheless argued that Saddam Hussein "was the most dangerous governmental leader in the world," and that the United States had "a legitimate right to take action."
Which brings us to item No. 3 (also on page 1): an unflattering article describing how Afghan President Hamid Karzai has gone from being Washington's best hope for success to being regarded as a weak and ineffective leader of what may be the most corrupt regime in the world. Buried in the article is a telling sentence: "Many Afghans and Western officials here believe that it was the Iraq war, more than any other factor, that deprived Mr. Karzai of the resources he needed to help the Afghan state stand on its own and to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban." That's right: the same Iraq war that Holbrooke backed.
Put these three separate articles together, and you get a good sense of how U.S. policy gets made. Powerful people with the right connections rise to important roles in government. When not in power, they land lucrative jobs that still leave them with lots of time to engage in public life, spending most of it hobnobbing with other people with similar backgrounds, advantages, and world-views, while building the connections they will need to get back into power later on. (Holbrooke apparently spent some of his Perseus earnings hosting an annual dinner for Hillary Clinton, replete with a set of A-list guests). And then the political wheel turns, and they return to public life, eager to solve the very problems they helped create.
Like most elites, the current policy establishment is a forgiving culture that cherishes conventional wisdom and rarely punishes anyone for being wrong -- even about big things -- provided that they know the right people. F. Scott Fitzgerald had it exactly wrong: for at least some American lives, there's no end to second chances.
My point here isn't to single out Ambassador Holbrooke, who is talented and tenacious and has some genuine accomplishments to his credit, and who is hardly a poster child for the adage "to get along, go along." In fact, given our current circumstances, I wish we had a few more Holbrookes to put to work on our current challenges.
My aim is simply to highlight Obama's basic dilemma. He has huge problems to solve and not a lot of time to do it. So he needs to work with the institutions and individuals that are currently entrenched in the Washington-New York nexus. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, "you go to work with the government you have." But it is those same institutions and individuals who created the mess we're in. If Obama tackles that dysfunctional power structure head-on it will go to the mattresses to defend itself, thereby making it harder to address the immediate problems we face. But if he doesn't establish new ways of doing the public's business, the old problems will persist and derail his efforts anyway. I don't see an obvious way out of this box, so I'm hoping the President is a lot smarter than me.
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My nominee for the silliest comment on the Iraqi provincial elections comes from -- no surprise here -- former UN Ambassador John Bolton. After praising the elections as a vindication of the "surge" and characterizing them as a setback for Iran, Bolton warned that the elections will not "put an end to Iran's ambitions. Tehran appears to believe that its influence in the region is expanding and that its neighbors and the United States have failed to respond effectively. This belief is unsurprising, given the Obama administration’s acquiescent attitude toward Tehran."
Let me get this straight. Obama has been in office for about two weeks, and Iran has already drawn the lesson from that brief period that "its influence is expanding." Has Bolton forgotten about the Bush administration, whose mishandling of Mideast policy failed to slow Iran's nuclear program and strengthened Iran's position in the Gulf, in Lebanon, and possibly in Gaza as well? The neoconservatives who ran our Mideast policy couldn’t have done more to help Iran if they had been on Tehran's payroll.
Better get used to Bolton's line of argument, because we are going to hear it over and over and over. As the new administration wrestles with the mess that Bush & Co. bequeathed them, neoconservative stalwarts will be rewriting history at every opportunity. They will try to portray our position on January 21, 2009, as basically sound, pin every subsequent bit of bad news on Obama, and hope we all forget who we got us into this situation. I have no doubt that Obama and his team will make some mistakes of their own -- and I'll be happy to criticize them when they do -- but let's not forget who dealt them the hand they are being forced to play now.
My take on the elections? They contain some encouraging signs but also some disturbing features, notably the growing accusations of fraud and the fact that exceptional measures had to be taken to prevent violent disruptions. A substantial number of Iraqis seem to be rallying around more secular parties and around Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in particular, which may make it easier for the United States to stick to the withdrawal timetable agreed to in the Status of Forces agreement signed last November. (Don't forget that a majority of Iraqis want us out either immediately or soon, and Maliki's toughminded handling of the SOFA negotiations probably boosted his popularity, even among some Sunnis.) Maliki's Dawa Party and his main coalition partners (the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq) aren't going to be Tehran's lackeys, but as Juan Cole points out (directly contradicting Bolton’s claims), both groups have good relations with Tehran and are viewed much more favorably by Tehran than Saddam ever was.
One aspect of the results give me pause. Iraq's voters appear to have endorsed parties who favor a strong central state, as opposed to those who might favor greater regional autonomy. On the one hand, a unified Iraq is in the U.S. interest, and we want a central government that is strong enough to maintain order after U.S. forces withdraw. But on the other hand, the stronger the central government becomes, the more that the contending groups will want to control it and greater the potential for trouble with Iraq's Kurds, who still want autonomy if not independence. If Iraq's Sunni population thinks it is getting shut out of power again, then prospects for genuine political reconciliation will remain bleak and renewed violence is likely after we are gone. And that has been the $64,000 question ever since the idea of invading Iraq was first proposed: What is the political formula by which Iraq will be governed now that Saddam's brutal dictatorship is gone?
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered a predictably unhelpful response to President Barack Obama's conciliatory message to the Muslim world last week. Ahmadinejad's answer: first the United States has to "apologize" for its opposition to Iran's nuclear program and for a host of other transgressions.
I've got news for him: we've already done so -- at least in part -- and he's not going to get another apology any time soon. Obama may be hoping for a fresh start with Tehran, but he is not going to start the process by apologizing for anything. And he's certainly not going to take any steps that might bolster Ahmadinejad's popularity between now and the Iranian presidential election in June.
Yet Ahmadinejad's statement does raise a broader question: should states apologize at all, even when they've done something they regret?
You might think that realists wouldn't put much stock in apologies; aren't they just meaningless "cheap talk?" Don't realists worry more about balances of power and conflicts of interest, and don't they emphasize that international politics is a rough business where states routinely do nasty things to weaker parties? Given that world-view, what's the point of saying you're sorry?
In fact, even realists think being willing to apologize sometimes matters. But as Dartmouth's Jennifer Lind argues in her book Sorry States: Apologies in World Politics, the act of apology can be tricky too, and can easily backfire.
There are at least three good reasons for states to apologize when they have behaved badly towards others.
First, apologizing to those you have wronged is an acknowledgement of their equal status; it is a recognition that they are of sufficient stature to deserve an expression of regret. Refusing to apologize sends the message that you think the wronged party is too insignificant to warrant any contrition. To do so betrays contempt for the party we have wronged, and treating someone with contempt is bound to fuel a desire for revenge.
Second, far from being "cheap talk," apologies can be a costly signal that conveys a genuine and sincere desire for a new relationship. Why? Because apologizing to a former adversary is politically risky, and only leaders who are genuinely sorry would be willing to run the risks and bear the costs. When a state acknowledges responsibility and expresses regret, it also opens itself up to demands for compensation or various forms of sanction and it may even lend legitimacy to opponents who then try to take advantage of the admission. The fact that there can be genuine costs to an apology explains why mere words still carry genuine meaning to the wronged party.
Third, apologizing tells others that no matter what we may have done in the past, we understand where the boundaries of acceptable conduct lie. If a country commits a heinous act and then refuses to apologize for it, others have reason to question whether its leaders are even aware that they have crossed a moral boundary. When someone shows no understanding of where the lines are, there is every reason to think they would cross them again without a second thought. To take an obvious example, had Germany failed to acknowledge the Holocaust and to openly apologize for it, people everywhere would have reason to think that Germans might easily do something similar again. The same logic explains why Pope Benedict's decision to reverse the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying priest is troubling; if the Vatican thinks Holocaust-denial is a minor matter that should take a back seat to the unity of the church, what does that tell us about the priority it places on crimes against humanity?
Even for realists, therefore, apologies can be a necessary tool of diplomacy. Apologizing for past mistakes is sometimes the best -- maybe the only -- way to wipe the slate clean and provide others with some basis for giving a country a second chance. Being a great power may mean that you never have to say you're sorry, but sometimes it is still a good idea.
But not always. Lind's book also shows that the question of apologies is more complicated than the simple picture I just sketched. She points out that states sometimes reconcile in the absence of an official apology -- as France and Germany did after World War II -- especially when former rivals realize that they have powerful strategic reasons to bury the hatchet and move on. Moreover, sometimes the act of extending an apology triggers a domestic backlash that undercuts the very leaders who are trying to promoting reconciliation, reinforcing existing suspicions and frustrating efforts to build a new relationship. In order to balance these conflicting imperatives, states may be better off eschewing efforts to "name and shame" and relying on less accusatory forms of remembrance and regret, such as memorials to victims (on both sides), international commissions to advise on the writing of textbooks and other educational materials, and joint scholarly programs designed to address sensitive historical events.
With respect to the United States and Iran, this is good advice. To build a new relationship, both sides will have to come to terms with the various hostile acts that each has committed over the past fifty-plus years. But no Iranian leader is likely to apologize to the "Great Satan" and no U.S. president could go beyond past expressions of regret without risking a backlash here at home. A better path is to emphasize the interests that the United States and Iran do have in common -- such as a shared desire for a stable and unified Iraq, and a growing concern about the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan -- while addressing the obvious points of contention (e.g., Iran's nuclear program). If we can make progress on the concrete diplomatic issues, we can also begin unofficial efforts to understand how and why U.S.-Iranian relations deteriorated in the past. American and Iranian scholars could usefully explore these issues through academic exchanges and then disseminate their findings more broadly, allowing each society to learn from past mistakes but without demanding humiliating expressions of regret that neither is likely to get.
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In his best-selling book Soft Power, my friend and colleague Joseph Nye famously defined "soft power" as a state's ability to attract others to a set of "shared values and the justness and duty of contributing to those values."
Among other things, he saw the American system of higher education as a key source of this sort of attraction. Encouraging tens of thousands of foreign students to attend U.S. universities was an effective way to familiarize them with the core values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and free markets, and Nye argued that future elites educated here would be more inclined to share U.S. policy preferences. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, "I can think of no more valuable asset to our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been educated here."
I find this argument persuasive. Indeed, I once wrote: "the American university system remains a potent mechanism for socializing foreign elites. Students studying in the United States become familiar with U.S. mores while simultaneously absorbing mainstream U.S. views on politics and economics." (Full disclosure: over forty percent of the students at the Kennedy School of Government are from overseas, and I firmly convinced that helping to educate them is good for the world and good for America, too.)
From a parochial American perspective, however, this aspect of "soft power" has at least one downside. In addition to learning about American values and in most cases acquiring a more accurate and favorable impression of American society, some foreign students who study here also acquire an in-depth knowledge of how the American system of government works. They also learn how to talk to Americans in ways that we will find persuasive. In short, they gain a greater ability to manipulate our political system to their advantage.
For example, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has a law degree from Columbia and also took courses at Georgetown. He has been something of a darling in hardline circles in Washington, and he was savvy enough to hire one of John McCain's foreign policy advisors (Randy Scheunemann) to lobby on Georgia's behalf. According to Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations, these efforts gained Georgia a "broad base of support" in Washington. This is partly a testimony to Saakashvili’s own political skills, but his effectiveness inside-the-Beltway suggests that he learned a lot about what makes America tick while he was a student here.
A second example might be Ahmad Chalabi, the former head of the Iraqi National Congress and one of the key promoters of the U.S. invasion in 2003. Chalabi received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago and proved to be unusually good at cultivating powerful friends in Washington. Indeed, his ability to sell bogus ideas about Iraq to gullible American neoconservatives suggests that he knew more about American than he did about politics in Iraq.
Then there's former (and possibly future) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who went to high school outside Philadelphia and to college and graduate school at MIT. His fluid command of English and obvious familiarity with the American politics and culture have made him an effective media performer and a popular figure on Capitol Hill, where he testified in 2002 in favor of the invasion of Iraq. And let's not forget Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who received an M.A. in public policy from Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and served as Saudi ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005.
The United States is more susceptible to this sort of influence than most other countries for three reasons. First, the United States is a global superpower with commitments all over the world, and its leaders don't have time to master all the details of different regional situations. So when a smooth-talking foreign representative with lots of local knowledge shows up and tells us what he or she knows we'd like to hear, we are more inclined to buy it.
Second, foreign countries know that whatever the United States does will have a big impact on them, so they devote a lot of effort to shaping our perceptions in ways that will benefit them. If they are smart, they send their A-Team over here, and people who know how our system works and what buttons to press will be especially valuable. By contrast, we don’t have the time, energy, personnel or incentive to do that for the other 190-plus countries out there. Here it's also worth noting that the number of foreign students studying here significantly exceeds the number of American studying abroad. According to the Institute of International Education, there were over 600,000 foreigners studying here in 2008, compared with about 250,000 Americans studying overseas.
Third, the United States has a uniquely permeable political system. If a foreign diplomat can't persuade the State Department, Treasury, or Defense, there are 435 Congressmen and 100 different Senators for them to go to work on. As Ken Silverstein shows in his fascinating and funny book Turkmeniscam, there are also a host of lobbying and PR firms who are happy to help foreign governments sell their story here too. And someone who has studied here for a few years is bound to know a lot about how to do that more effectively than someone who has never lived here before.
This is not -- repeat not -- an argument for raising the drawbridge and keeping foreign students out. Knowing how our system works doesn’t enable foreign diplomats or government officials to dictate what the U.S. government does, and sometimes an all-out effort to bamboozle us will get nowhere, or even backfire. On balance, therefore, keeping our ivory towers open is almost certainly a net plus for the United States. And there's undoubtedly a positive-sum benefit when students from a variety of cultures come together to wrestle with common problems -- I see this every day in my courses. But let's not be naive: there are certain costs too, unless one wrongly assumes that foreign leaders will never, ever, try to get us to do something that might be in their interest but not in ours. And in those cases, an intimate knowledge of how American politics operates will give some foreign representatives an edge.
International politics is a competitive business, and it’s hardly surprising that other countries use their knowledge of the United States and its political system to try to advance their own interests. Instead of keeping foreign students out, however, perhaps the answer is to get more Americans to study abroad, so that we're as good at manipulating them as they sometimes are at manipulating us.
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Over at the New Republic, Jonathan Chait is in a lather about J Street, Ezra Klein, and me, mostly because we've independently suggested that unconditional and uncritical support for Israel might not be good for the United States or for Israel either. The essence of his argument is mostly guilt-by-association, but along the way he also hurls a barrage of nasty adjectives at my book with John Mearsheimer on the Israel lobby. And like some other critics, his comments suggest that he didn't bother to read it first.
To be specific, Chait says the book "portrays Israel as a force for evil throughout its existence." He offers no evidence to support that false claim. Had he read the book, here are some passages that might have given him pause.
There is a strong moral case for Israel's existence, and there are good reasons for the United States to be committed to helping Israel if its survival is in jeopardy" (p. 5).
The authors of this book are 'pro-Israel' in the sense that we support its right to exist, admire its many achievements, want its citizens to enjoy secure and prosperous lives, and believe the United States should come to Israel's aid it is survival is in danger" (pp. 113-14).
Israel's creation and subsequent development is a remarkable achievement." (p. 355).
My co-author and I were critical of some Israeli policies, while emphasizing that:
[We are] not focusing on Israel's conduct because we have an animus toward the Jewish state, or because we believe that its behavior is particularly worthy of censure. On the contrary, we recognize that virtually all states have committed serious crimes in their history. . . and that some of Israel's Arab neighbors have at times acted with great brutality" (pp. 80-81).
We also noted that:
almost all of the many gentiles and Jews who now criticize Israeli policies or worry about the [Israel] lobby’s impact find [anti-Semitic] views deeply disturbing and categorically reject them. . . They believe that Israel acts like other states, which is to say that it vigorously defends its own interests and sometimes pursues policies that are wise and just and sometimes does things that are strategically foolish and even immoral. This perspective is the opposite of anti-Semitism. It calls for treating Jews like everyone else and treating Israel as a normal and legitimate country. Israel, in this view, should be praised when it acts well and criticized when it does not....Americans who care about Israel should be free to criticize it when its government takes actions that they believe are not in Israel’s interest" (p. 195).
In short, Chait's characterization of our book is a fiction; he just made it up. He undoubtedly thinks that attacking us in this way will help keep Israel safer. He's wrong. The policy of unconditional and uncritical support that the New Republic has fervently defended for years isn’t working for either the United States or for Israel -- and plenty of other staunchly pro-Israel individuals -- e.g., Daniel Levy, Matt Yglesias, Roger Cohen, Ha'aretz editor David Landau, M.J. Rosenberg, Gershom Gorenberg, Gideon Levy, Akiva Eldar, Aaron David Miller, etc. -- have figured this out too.
Why is Chait so exercised? I think it's because he realizes the discourse about Israel in the United States is changing before his eyes, and that increasing numbers of people -- both Jewish and gentile -- now realize that a more normal relationship would be better for both countries. If Chait were a true friend of Israel, he'd agree.
In his Inaugural Address, President Obama declared that "We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth." He then outlined a number of ambitious foreign policy goals: forging peace in Afghanistan, lessening the nuclear threat, rolling back the specter of a warming planet, and, of course, defeating terrorism.
As if on cue, Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has a new article in the National Interest that casts some cold water on these lofty sentiments. Pape argues that the United States is in "unprecedented decline," and says that "without deliberate action, the fall of American power will be more precipitous with the passage of time." His argument is straightforward: economic power provides the wherewithal to meet global commitments and advance national interests. America's overall share of gross world product is falling while others’ shares are rising; ergo, our current position of primacy is deteriorating rapidly, in part because other states are rising but also because the Bush administration managed to mismanage foreign policy and fiscal policy simultaneously.
I agree that it's important to match ambitions to resources, but I think Pape overstates his case in three ways:
First, his analysis assumes that relatively small changes in a state's overall share of Gross World Product (GWP) will have dramatic effects on its global position. Thus, he sees a shift from 26 percent of GWP to 21 percent of GWP as an enormous decline in America's position, even when the No. 2 power (China) still has only 9 percent. This looks even scarier when expressed in terms of percentages (Pape estimates that the U.S. share of GWP has declined by 32 percent since 1990 while China’s has risen by 144 percent), because percentage increases are greater when one begins from a low starting point. Equatorial Guinea's share of gross world product is growing at an even faster rate than China's, but that hardly means we should see it as our next great peer competitor.
Second, Pape's analysis slights the effects of the current economic downturn on the other major powers. It's true that we're being hammered, but so are potential rivals like Russia and China and the political consequences may be substantially greater for them than for us. At the very least, a bit of skepticism about long-term trends is in order.
Third, Pape's purely structural analysis ignores the impact of geography on the prospects for anti-American balancing. He and I agree that states have engaged in various forms of "soft balancing" over the past fifteen years, in essence seeking to check U.S. unilateralism by coordinating their diplomatic positions in ways that made it costlier for the United States to act alone. Pape now warns that "American relative power is declining to the point where even subsets of major powers acting in concert could produce sufficient military power to stand a reasonable chance of successfully opposing American military policies."
This is unlikely, especially if Pape is right and we really do face a long-term decline in our relative power position. If our power really does decline, then the major powers of Eurasia will have little reason to balance against us. More importantly, states tend to worry more about neighbors than they do about countries that are far away, even when the latter are very powerful. Given this tendency, it is hard to imagine the EU, Russia, China, India or Japan forging a powerful anti-American coalition; instead, some of these states will continue to want close ties with us to protect them from the others.
The real danger isn't anti-American balancing, therefore, it is the ability of other states to successfully "pass the buck" to a United States whose foreign policy elite continue to see America as the "indispensable nation" that has to get its fingers into every global problem. Other great powers have been happy to let Uncle Sam do most of the heavy lifting, while they concentrate on developing their economies (China) or maintaining generous welfare states (Europe). In this sense Pape is right to warn about our tendency toward overcommitment, and especially against any attempt to redress economic decline through increased military spending and even-greater international activism. Obama's challenge is to get other states to contribute more to achieving objectives we share, and that will only happen if we make it clear that we aren't willing or able to do it all ourselves.
The New York Times reports that President Obama will appoint former Senator George Mitchell as his chief envoy on Israel-Palestine. According to Jewish Week, ADL national director Abraham Foxman thinks Mitchell is an inappropriate choice because he is "fair," and has been "meticulously even-handed." As Matt Yglesias points out, fairness is a quality that we normally prize in an envoy.
Foxman says this approach is wrong because our policy hasn't been "even-handed" in the past. But has he noticed that our long-standing policy of one-sided support hasn't been working out so well for the United States, or for Israel? Experienced Middle East diplomats like Aaron David Miller and former Ambassador Dan Kurtzer understand that our mediation efforts will fail if we act like Israel's lawyer, and make it clear that we need envoys who are seen as credible by both sides. To repeat myself: it's time to redefine what being "pro-Israel" means. I think Obama may get this, even if Foxman doesn't.
I was thinking about all the people who will soon be moving into their new jobs in the Obama administration, and recalled the opening lines of Richard N. Haass's book The Bureaucratic Entrepreneur:
You have just had your second cup of coffee. Your pencils are sharpened; your legal pad is at the ready. You may figured out how to log onto your new computer and done so. You glance at your watch; too soon to start thinking about lunch. You want to succeeed; but you are not quite sure what it will take. To be honest, you are not quite sure how to define success.
So to all the new appointees: Good luck!
Over at the Atlantic web Site, Megan McArdle and Ross Douthat spent part of last week engaged in a lengthy discussion of the situation in Gaza and the role of the Israel lobby, with Andrew Sullivan chiming in briefly. This is one sense gratifying, because John Mearsheimer and I decided to write about the lobby in order to encourage more open discussion of a subject that had become something of a taboo here in the United States, especially in mainstream foreign policy circles.
I won't get into all the details of their exchanges (which included an interesting discussion of various counterfactuals and other examples of ethnic politics), but I did want to raise one question. Although Douthat and McArdle offer a number of critical appraisals of our work on this subject, did anyone else noticed that the discussion of our book never contained any concrete evidence that the participants have actually read it? In his entries, for example, Ross Douthat denounced it as "tendentious, simplistic and wrong" and suggests that we "echo tropes of classical anti-semitism." He's welcome to his opinion and is of course free to express them on his blog, but he has yet to offer a single specific quotation or concrete example from the actual book to buttress his case. So far, his only evidence are references to other people who reviewed the book and didn't like it.
Although more sympathetic to our position, Megan McAardle says that we "tend to assume conspiracy where affinity is a better explanation," even though, as detailed below, we repeatedly rejected any notion of "conspiracy" and instead described the lobby as a normal American interest group, albeit an unusually influential one. So I am beginning to wonder if they have actually read the book.
The problem with relying on other people's opinions is that virtually all of the mainstream critics here in the US misrepresented our arguments badly, frequently accusing us of saying the exact opposite of what we actually wrote. At the risk of boring you, let me offer a few examples:
1. As I pointed out last week, we wrote that the various groups that comprise the Israel lobby are "engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie,” and we repeatedly stressed that "lobbying on Israel's behalf is wholly legitimate." Apart from a regrettable tendency to try to silence critics or to smear them as anti-Semites, we even said that the tactics employed by the main groups in the lobby "are reasonable, and simply part of the normal rough-and tumble that is the essence of democratic politics" (pp. 5, 13, 147, 185). In fact, we also expressed the hope that pro-Israel forces in the United States would remain active in politics, but begin to advocate policies that would be better for the U.S. and Israel alike (pp. 352-55). Nonetheless, Jeffrey Goldberg's review in The New Republic called our book “the most sustained attack...against the political enfranchisement of American Jews since the era of Father Coughlin."
2. We defined the lobby as a "loose coalition of groups and individuals who actively work to move American foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction," and we emphasized that our definition "does not mean that every American with favorable attitudes towards Israel is a member of the lobby." Instead, we wrote that to qualify as part of the lobby one had to "actively work" to strengthen and defend the "special relationship" of nearly-unconditional support that now exists between the U.S. and Israel (pp. 5, 113-14). There are therefore plenty of Americans who have favorable attitudes toward Israel who are not part of the "Israel lobby." Yet Walter Russell Mead falsely charged that "Mearsheimer and Walt have come up with a definition of the 'Israel lobby' that covers the waterfront, including everyone from Jimmy Carter and George Soros to Paul Wolfowitz and Tom Delay."
3. We wrote that "the Israel lobby is not a cabal or conspiracy or anything of the sort" and repeated this assertion five times (pp. 5, 13, 112, 114, 131, 150). Nonetheless, Ruth Wisse published an op-ed in the Washington Post saying that "Mearsheimer and Walt allege that a Jewish cabal dictates U.S. policy in the Middle East, helping Israeli interests and hurting U.S. ones."
4. We wrote that "we are not challenging Israel's right to exist or questioning the legitimacy of the Jewish state," adding that we believed "the United States should stand willing to come to Israel's assistance if its survival were in jeopardy." We also wrote that we "support its right to exist, admire Israel's many achievements, [and] want its citizens to lead secure and prosperous lives" (pp. 11-12, 113, 341-342). Nonetheless, former Israeli Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich falsely claimed that our book "not only expressed criticism of Israel's policy but also questioned its legitimacy."
5. Leslie Gelb's review of our book in The New York Times referred repeatedly to a "Jewish lobby," even though we never used that phrase ourselves and explicitly argued that it was an inappropriate and misleading term (p. 115). It is inappropriate because many American Jews do not "actively work" to support the special relationship and because some individuals and groups that do actively work in this way (such as the "Christian Zionists") aren't Jewish. Gelb's mischaracterization (and his review's title, "Dual Loyalties,") made it sound like we were directing our criticisms at an entire ethnic group and hinting its members were disloyal, which is of course false.
6. Even David Remnick, whose comment in the New Yorker was one of the more fair-minded mainstream appraisals, said that "Mearsheimer and Walt give you the sense that, if the Israelis and the Palestinians come to terms, bin Laden will return to the family construction business." In fact, we said the opposite. After documenting how the Israel-Palestinian conflict had influenced bin Laden’s attitudes and aided terrorist recruitment, we wrote that “U.S. support for Israel is hardly the only source of anti-Americanism in the Arab and Islamic world" and noted that the issue of Palestine was "not their only grievance." As we emphasized, "some Islamic radicals are genuinely upset by what they regard as the West's materialism and venality, its alleged "theft" of Arab oil, its support for corrupt Arab monarchies, [and] its repeated military interventions in the region, etc." (pp. 65-70). We also stated that "Israeli-Palestinian peace is not a wonder drug will solve all the region's problems; it will by itself neither eliminate anti-Semitism in the region nor lead Arab elites to tackle the other problems that afflict their societies" (p. 348).
I could go on, but you get the point. Given this array of misstatements and distortions (most of them in highly visible publications), it is not surprising that other pundits formed a negative impression of the book, which is no doubt what our critics intended.
Here it is perhaps worth mentioning that the book also contains: 1) lengthy and explicit denunciations of the "shameful legacy" of anti-Semitism; 2) a frank discussion of the bogus charge of "dual loyalty," which we describe as a "canard" and an "anti-Semitic slander," adding that “any notion that Jewish Americans are disloyal citizens is wrong” (p. 147); and 3) an acknowledgement that the long history of anti-Semitism makes it understandably hard to discuss this subject in a calm or dispassionate way. We knew full well that we were entering a minefield, and went to considerable lengths to make it clear what we were saying and what we weren't.
Contrary to various other charges, we also wrote that the lobby does not "control" U.S. foreign policy (though it does have considerable influence) and we did not advance a "mono-causal" explanation for U.S. Middle East policy, including the controversial decision to invade Iraq. With respect to the latter, we argue that pressure from the neoconservatives (an influential element of the broader interest group) was a necessary but not sufficient condition for war (a point that many other authors and public figures have made) and we emphasized that the neocons could not cause the war by themselves. America's dominant global position was a crucial contextual factor, 9/11 was a key precipitating event, and it was Bush and Cheney who made the ultimate decision for war. We also make it clear that the war wasn't Israel's idea (they were in fact initially opposed), although key Israeli leaders eventually jumped on board and helped sell it here in the United States. The book's conclusion calls for a more normal relationship between the United States and Israel, which we believe would be better for both countries. And to repeat, we also express the hope that supporters of Israel here in the United States will remain actively engaged in the political process in order to help bring about that much-needed change.
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know most of these things about our book if you relied on mainstream reviews in the United States or the recent discussion at the Atlantic web Site. It doesn't have to be that way, of course: it's entirely possible to take issue with some of our arguments while representing them fairly. For an example of how this is done, watch for Jerome Slater's forthcoming essay in the Winter 2009 issue of the scholarly journal Security Studies. Slater agrees with us on some issues and disagrees strongly on others, but the key point is that he does this in a fair-minded way and for the most part portrays our claims accurately.
To step back for a moment, this whole episode illustrates a larger problem with the quality of public discourse here in the United States. Can we expect to address important public policy problems constructively when critics routinely deal with arguments they don’t like in such a misleading fashion, and when prominent pundits seem comfortable lambasting scholarly works they show little sign of having read? If this is the level of "truthiness" that public intellectuals and pundits now aspire to, we are in bigger trouble than I thought, and in ways that go beyond the reaction to any particular book.
To be clear, neither John Mearsheimer nor myself consider our book to be the last word on the subject; that's just not how scholarship works, especially in controversial areas. We welcome open discussion and vigorous debate and we recognize there are aspects of this issue about which reasonable people are bound to disagree. That's fine with us, because lively but fair-minded discussion can help us all figure out where our views might need revision and bring us to a clearer understanding of these difficult issues. But in order to have that sort of exchange, people really do have to read the book first.
In foreign policy, the safest prediction is unpredictability. George W. Bush took office in 2000 condemning "nation-building" and intending to focus on great power politics; then along came 9/11 and he ended up occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. Bill Clinton tried to stay out of the Balkan mess during his first term but eventually found himself sending thousands of soldiers to Bosnia and bombing the Serbs over Kosovo. Bush 41 started out thinking that Saddam Hussein was a U.S. ally and ended up having to drive him out of Kuwait. In each case, these presidents devoted considerable time and attention to problems that they never saw coming. So Barack needs to be prepared for the unexpected. We already know what is on his foreign policy "to do" list -- Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, Colombia, Pakistan, etc. -- but he is certain to get blind-sided by something that he's not even thinking about yet. Will it be a governmental meltdown in Mexico? The unexpected death of a key Mideast leader? A run on the dollar? Who knows? I'd love to tell him what the Big Surprise is going to be; alas, nobody's crystal ball is that good. But when it happens -- and it will -- we'll find out just how good a leader he really is.
As Barack Obama prepares to take the oath of office, the conventional wisdom is that he faces the greatest challenge of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. It's easy to see why: the U.S. economy is in the most serious slump since the 1930s, and he had been handed a losing war in Iraq and a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. America's global image has fallen to unprecedented lows, and he won't have a lot of discretionary resources to throw at big global problems.
Yet not all is doom-and-gloom, and our current difficulties also present real opportunities if Obama is wise enough to seize them. What's the silver lining here?
First, the Bush administration's disastrous legacy is an obvious asset for Obama, because virtually any change from Bush's approach -- whether in style or in substance -- is likely to win kudos overseas. This benefit won't last if Obama's policies turn out to be more of the same, but for the moment it gives the new team a lot of running room.
Second, Obama is becoming President at a moment of relative peace and stability world-wide. This claim may seem surprising when we think of the past six years in Iraq and Afghanistan or the bad news from Darfur, Gaza, Pakistan, and elsewhere, but the reality is that overall level of global violence has declined sharply since the end of the Cold War. Even more importantly, the risk of major-power conflict is probably lower now than at any time in the past century. According to the Human Security Project at Simon Fraser University, the number of armed conflicts dropped dramatically from 1993 to 2006, and the average lethality of both state-based and non-state based conflicts (measured as number of fatalities per year) has also decreased steadily in recent decades. Although certain regions (e.g., Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa) have seen upticks in violence, the overall global trend is encouraging. The conflicts that are still underway are tragic and will require attention, but most of them do not pose a threat to vital U.S. interests.
Third, the economic problems that have hammered the United States have also affected our major rivals. It is not as if the U.S. economy is in free-fall while potential challengers are soaring. The current downturn also poses problems for China, has put a serious crimp in Moscow's ambitions, and compounded Iran's already-difficult economic situation. We would obviously be better off with a thriving economy, but the current recession is not a short-term threat to America’s core national security interests.
Fourth, Obama is taking office with high levels of support from a population that for the moment seems to have realistic expectations. The American people know we are in trouble and that it will take some time to fix the situation, a message that Obama has reinforced skillfully. The Democrats have solid control of the House and Senate, but their failure to win a veto-proof majority will force them to reach out to a few GOP members in order to advance their program. This reality will temper the far-left wing of the Democratic Party and make it harder for the far-right in the GOP to blame everything on Pelosi, Reid, and the new President.
Taken together, these various factors mean that President Obama has a great deal of latitude in the conduct of foreign policy. As I've written previously, our current circumstances will require the United States to set clearer priorities and stop trying to do everything. The good news is that the American people are likely to support this shift. Many foreign countries will welcome less heavy-handed U.S. leadership, while others will start working harder to keep us happy if we play hard-to-get more often.
Above all, the biggest mistake Obama could make would be to follow too closely in his predecessor's footsteps, or to pay too much attention to the people whose advice helped derail his predecessor. They might be excellent dinner companions, but their policy recommendations have been tried and the results are in.
There are still serious dangers out there, of course, and the conduct of U.S. foreign policy is not going to be easy. Here's one of my lingering worries: in the past, prolonged economic depressions have been fertile breeding grounds for hyper-nationalism, fascism, anti-Semitism, and other social and political pathologies. If similar movements were to re-emerge today, the comparatively low level of global violence that exists now -- especially among the major powers -- would be jeopardized. It follows that getting the U.S. and world economy back on track is a key national security priority, as important as any specific diplomatic initiative.
President Bush defended his presidency yesterday by noting that "America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil."
Depending on your definition of "terrorism," this claim is about as accurate as his claims about Iraqi WMD. See here or here. And it's worth remembering that the only major foreign terrorist attack on American soil in our history occurred on Bush's watch, and anti-American terrorist groups have conducted major attacks in Jordan, Indonesia, Spain, and a number of other countries since 9/11. I think the Bush administration did some smart things after 9/11 (such as ousting al Qaeda from its safe haven in Afghanistan) and I'm glad that we haven't suffered another attack, but the fact there hasn't been any large-scale foreign terrorist attack on American soil is an insufficient criterion for judging the "war on terror," not to mention an entire presidency.
Back in December, veteran foreign correspondent William Pfaff asked the right question: how much faith do other states still have in American competence?
Back in 2005, the failed occupation in Iraq and the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina led many foreign observers to question whether America's leaders knew what they were doing. The aura of effectiveness matters, because American influence depends in good part on the belief that U.S. leaders (both public and private) are knowledgeable, honest, and above all competent individuals who can figure out what needs to be done and then actually get it implemented. When other governments think U.S. officials can be trusted to make smart choices and deliver them, they are more likely to follow our lead. But if they suspect that our leaders are bunglers, they will keep their own counsel or look elsewhere for guidance.
America's reputation for competence was based on genuine achievements: the Manhattan Project, the Marshall Plan, the moon landings, a broad array of scientific and technical achievements (signified by a steady stream of Nobel Prizes), some remarkable institutions of higher learning, the creation of media and entertainment industry with unprecedented global reach, decades of fairly steady economic growth, a successful melting-pot society, a belated but well-intentioned effort to address the legacy of slavery, and the eventual triumph over the Soviet Union. One might also add iconic examples of accomplishment such as Charles Lindbergh, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jonas Salk, Margaret Mead, Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. Even when events like Vietnam cast doubt on American wisdom, these setbacks did not damage the larger sense that America was a country that worked pretty well.
Today, however, the drip-drip-drip of bad news and the growing sense that malfeasance and moral rot are widespread risks permanent damage to America's global image. Consider what the past eight years has done to our brand name: the fraud-filled "reconstruction" of Iraq and the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, the dark scar that is Guantanamo, the feckless performance of Alberto Gonzalez, the corruption conviction of Jack Abramoff, and the failure to capture Osama bin Laden. Add to that the Wall Street meltdown, the Madoff scandal, the Blagojevich follies, and the Big 3 automakers' lame pleas, and you have a picture of America that raises more doubts than hopes.
Of course, like many other factors in international politics, confidence in American competence is a relative concept: it's not as if Japan or the Europeans are making consistently smart choices and executing them well. China's Olympics were undeniably impressive, but then there's the melamine scandal and numerous reports of widespread corruption. I guess there's some dubious comfort to be had from the fact that other states have lots of problems too.
Back home, the election of Barack Obama was an electrifying event that has temporarily restored some hope in American ideals and demonstrated our society's still-remarkable capacity to surprise. But the bleeding will resume if the new team does not demonstrate that it has well-designed strategies for dealing with our current problems, and if they don't quickly demonstrate the ability to put those plans into effect and make them work. And let's be honest: despite their ample experience and glittering resumes, the track records of some of his key appointees do not inspire as much confidence as one might like.
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For those of you looking for some foreign policy ideas that are a bit more innovative than, say, Hillary Clinton's recent Senate testimony, the smart people at MIT's Center for International Studies have released an interesting set of memos offering "Advice for President Obama." Some highlights:
The memos contain a lot of outside-the-box but eminently practical advice, and I hope someone on the Obama team takes notice. Maybe the reported new head of Policy Planning?
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While reading the official transcript of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton's opening statement at her confirmation hearing yesterday, I had a brief moment of excitement somewhere around paragraph twenty-five. Here's what made me sit up straight (emphasis added):
Of course, we must be realistic about achieving our goals. Even under the best of circumstances, our nation cannot solve every problem or meet every global need. We don't have unlimited time, treasure, or manpower. And we certainly don't face the best of circumstances today, with our economy faltering and our budget deficits growing.
So to fulfill our responsibility to our children, to protect and defend our nation while honoring our values, we have to establish priorities. Now, I'm not trying to mince words here. As my colleagues in the Senate know, "establishing priorities" means making tough choices. Because those choices are so important to the American people, we must be disciplined in evaluating them -- weighing the costs and consequences of our action or inaction; gauging the probability of success; and insisting on measurable results."
"She gets it!" I thought. But then I read on and discovered what "making choices and setting priorities" actually means. Among other things, it means:
1. "Deepening our engagement" with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries in central Asia;
2. "Actively" pursuing a strategy in the Middle East that addresses Israel's security needs and the Palestinians' "legitimate" political aspirations, challenges Iran to end its nuclear program and sponsorship of terror, persuades Syria to abandon dangerous behavior and "strengthens relationships" with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other regional states;
3. Making new efforts to secure nuclear materials, get other states to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and renew negotiations for a Fissile Material Cutoff treaty;
4. Working to strengthen U.S. alliances in Europe and Asia, to include NATO, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and India;
5. Pursuing cooperative relations with Russia and China, while standing up for core U.S. values;
6. Working closely with Canada and Mexico on economic issues and drug trafficking, and returning to a policy of "vigorous engagement" with the rest of Latin America;
7. "Combating al-Qaida's efforts in the Horn of Africa; helping African nations to conserve their natural resources; stopping war in Congo; ending autocracy in Zimbabwe and human devastation in Darfur; supporting African democracies like South Africa and Ghana; and working aggressively to reach the Millennium Development Goals in health, education, and economic opportunity";
8. Leading an "urgent, coordinated response to climate change," and continuing active efforts to address global AIDS, global poverty, global health, global education and, of course, promoting democracy and human rights;
And after covering every continent, she declared that this laundry list was just "a few of our top priorities" (my emphasis) and said she expected to "address many more in the question-and-answer session." And she did.
These goals may all be perfectly worthy in themselves, and it would have been undiplomatic for her to spell out the countries, regions, or issue she deemed less important. Nonetheless, Clinton's remarks were not those of someone eager to make choices or set priorities, even though she deployed clever new concepts like "smart power." Clinton did not say which of these problems merited the most resources or the most immediate attention, which problems were the most easily solved and which might be intractable, or how the United States might deploy its power strategically, so that our actions in one area made solving other problems easier, instead of operating (as we often do) at cross-purposes.
It was an impressive performance in some respects -- she's mastered her brief, showed admirable poise, and made it clear that she's on the same page with the president-elect. But taken as a whole, her testimony was entirely consistent with the well-engrained tendency for great powers to assume that what happens anywhere matters everywhere, and especially matters to them. I'm no isolationist, but it would be refreshing to hear a more rigorous assessment of our vital interests and a clearer acknowledgement of the limits of U.S. power, especially these days.
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President-elect Barack Obama has repeatedly said that he will focus more effort on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Current plans call for an additional 20,000-30,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan next year, and Secretary of State Robert Gates wants to double the size of the Afghan army and intensify U.S. training efforts. Fred Kaplan at Slate reports that "we finally have a strategy," though he wisely cautions "that may not be enough."
Here's why I'm worried, too. Take a look at the recent RAND Corporation study of U.S.-led peacekeeping operations, which contains in-depth case studies of the occupations of Germany, Japan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, and Afghanistan. The success stories (Germany, Japan, Bosnia, and Kosovo) all featured a far more intensive commitment of men and resources than anyone is talking about in Afghanistan. In Germany, we had 100 U.S. troops for every 1000 people in the local population; in Kosovo and Bosnia, we started off with roughly 20 NATO soldiers per 1,000 locals. Somalia and Japan began with about five soldiers per 1,000 locals and then drew down (Somalia was a failure; Japan an obvious success).
By contrast, the post-conflict occupation of Afghanistan began with 14,000 U.S. and allied troops for a country with a population of nearly 30 million. That works out to well under 1 peacekeeper for every 1,000 Afghans. There are now about 63,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and the planned reinforcements will bring that total up to somewhere around 90,000 next year. But for a country that now contains over 32 million people, that's still fewer than three soldiers per 1,000 population. To get to the force levels achieved in tiny Kosovo -- which is only 11,000 square kilometers as opposed to Afghanistan's total land area of roughly 650,000 sq. km. -- the United States and NATO would need to put over 600,000 troops in the field. And nobody is proposing to make that sort of commitment, even if we could. Afghanistan has also received much lower amounts of aid per capita than the successful postwar occupations.
Of course, rules of thumb like these should be used with caution, as the context of different occupations varies considerably. One could argue that the insurgency we are fighting is confined to certain areas of the country, so counting the whole population overstates the problem. Adding the Afghan Army into the mix can bring the force-to-population ratios up to a more encouraging level, particularly if the army proves to be loyal and if efforts to expand it succeed. One could also argue that smaller amounts of aid per capita can still have a disproportionately large impact, because Afghanis are already so poor and it doesn't take much outside help to make a big difference. Supporters might also argue that the tactical success of the "surge" in Iraq shows that additional troops deployed in the right way can have big positive effects.
On the other hand, the difficult nature of Afghan terrain and the lack of a well-developed transportation network means that higher ground force-to-population ratios are needed to achieve lasting stability. That problem is compounded by the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which gives Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents a safe haven from most of the NATO contingent. Moreover, the lack of local infrastructure makes it harder to deliver aid cheaply and thus reduces the amount of money that actually touches the lives of ordinary Afghanis. Finally, Afghan tribes and warlords have a long history of alignment and realignment, which means that the cohesion of the "national" Army and the loyalty of tribal forces may not be something on which we can rely. And as my new colleague Rory Stewart points out here, adding more troops in the past has "had a negative political impact on the conservative and nationalistic communities of the Pashtun south and allowed Taliban propaganda to portray us as a foreign military occupation."
Add all this together, and it's easy to see why the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Bantz Craddock, said last week that the United States and NATO will have to keep a large force in Afghanistan for "at least ten years," and maintain a presence there for "decades." But Craddock's implicit recommendation should not be accepted uncritically: saying the United States should stay there for "decades" begs the question of whether it is in our interest to commit lots of blood and treasure toward the creation of a unified Afghan state. And that's a question of national interest and overall grand strategy, not just a matter of military operations or counter-insurgency tactics.
Bottom line: there is a very real possibility that escalating our commitment in Afghanistan will not succeed, which means we will need a Plan B. I hope we won't, but I also hope somebody in the Obama administration starts working on one now, so that we don’t have to improvise one on the fly. Proposals welcome.
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Several prominent bloggers (including Andrew Sullivan, Juan Cole, and Matt Yglesias) have taken note of Ehud Olmert's remarkable statement claiming credit for getting the United States to abstain from the U.N. Security Council Resolution on Gaza, even though the United States had helped write it. Sullivan suggests that the episode reveals just how differently the government of Israel was treated compared to other governments during the Bush years.
He's right, but this pattern of behavior didn't start in 2001. As a number of participants have chronicled, the Clinton administration let the government of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak determine the direction and pace of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations and Barak often treated Clinton and his aides in a remarkably peremptory fashion. Even Dennis Ross's memoir The Missing Peace (which is generally sympathetic to the Israeli perspective), betrays repeated irritation at Barak's highhandedness (see especially pp. 530-532, 539, 550-551, 578-580). The apotheosis was Clinton's abortive meeting with Syrian President Hafez al Assad in Geneva in March 2000. Undertaken at Barak's insistence, Clinton later complained to the Israeli PM that the meeting made him feel "like a wooden Indian sitting there doing your bidding."
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In today's New York Times, David Sanger reveals that the Bush administration "deflected" an Israeli request last year for bunker-busting bombs, which they reportedly intended to use for a preventive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. An Israeli request for permission to overfly Iraq (whose airspace is controlled by the United States) was also denied. As partial compensation, the United States agreed to closer intelligence cooperation with Israel and informed Jerusalem that it had intensified a covert action campaign to sabotage Iran's nuclear programs.
This episode reveals that once he stopped listening to neoconservatives, President Bush was able to figure out that a preventive strike would be counterproductive. Not only would an Israeli or U.S. attack encourage Iran to retaliate against U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- where we still have our hands full -- it would provide no more than a temporary fix. Just as Israel's 1981 strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor led Saddam Hussein to redouble his own nuclear efforts, a preventive strike on Iran would have led Tehran to intensify its efforts to acquire a deterrent of its own and to do so in ways that would make it even harder for us to address. According to Sanger, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was especially influential in convincing Bush that an attack would "prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors, and drive Iran's nuclear effort out of view."
Sanger also reports that the United States has stepped up covert actions against Iran. This is hardly a revelation, but it may help us understand why Iran is meddling in areas where it knows it can cause trouble for the United States and its allies. As Trita Parsi argues in his excellent book Treacherous Alliance, there is a lot more realpolitik in Iranian foreign policy than most Americans recognize, and many of their actions that we rightly oppose (such as their support for Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad) are motivated as much by a desire to force the United States to recognize Iranian interests as by deep ideological convictions. Among other things, Parsi shows that there was little love lost between the Islamic Republic and the PLO in the 1980s, and that Iran began backing more extreme Palestinian groups only after the United States excluded it from the 1992 Madrid Peace Conference and adopted the policy of "dual containment" in the first years of the Clinton administration.
Some of you may believe that Bush's departure and Obama's arrival means that that the use of force is no longer a serious option, and that the United States is going to pursue a diplomatic approach instead. That hopeful conclusion is almost certainly premature, for at least three reasons.
First, there are still influential voices in Washington who maintain that the United States cannot permit Iran to maintain an independent enrichment capability, and who believe that the United States should use force to prevent this in the event that diplomacy does not succeed. See this recent report, cowritten by neoconservative Michael Rubin and endorsed by a task force whose members included Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a number of other prominent individuals. If Ross ends up as the State Department's special envoy on Iran, as has been rumored, this view will be front-and-center in the new administration. (I have been told that Ross's appointment is not a done deal and that there is opposition to it within the transition team, so we don't yet know just how influential that view is likely to be. But it is unlikely to be wholly absent).
Second, as the United States draws down its presence in Iraq, Iran's ability to retaliate in that area of operations will decline. Opponents of the military option will lose one of the obvious counter-arguments to an attack (though there are plenty of others), and opposition within the uniformed military (which has been deeply skeptical of the military option in the past) may decline.
Third, Obama will almost certainly try the diplomatic route first, just as he promised in the campaign. The question is whether the diplomatic strategy that the administration follows has any realistic chance of succeeding. Specifically, will the Obama administration follow the Bush administration's line and insist that Iran abandon its desire to control the full nuclear fuel cycle? In addition, will it take the threat of military force off the table? Threatening Iran with regime change merely increases its desire for a nuclear deterrent, and they are much less likely to abandon that goal if we are continue to point a gun at their heads. Remember that the deal that eventually convinced Muammar al-Qaddafi to abandon his own WMD programs involved an explicit U.S. assurance that we would not try to overthrow his regime. If the United States won't do this for Tehran, and if we demand full cessation of all enrichment activities, we are not going to get an agreement. At that point, hawks will claim that diplomacy has been tried and found wanting and Obama is going to find it harder to resist a more forceful response.
Over at the Atlantic Web site, Ross Douthat and Jeffrey Goldberg have been giving each other high-fives after an apparent competition to distort what I write. Responding to such criticisms is normally a mug's game, but a few comments seem appropriate at this juncture.
To be frank, it's hard for me to take Goldberg seriously when he writes on Middle East issues. After all, he wrote a 12,000 word review of our book on the Israel lobby that managed to misrepresent its arguments on virtually every page. To take but one example, my coauthor and I wrote that the various groups and individuals that make up the Israel lobby are "engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie," and we repeatedly stressed that "lobbying on Israel's behalf is wholly legitimate." What did Goldberg say in his review? After linking us to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Osama bin Laden, he told his readers that our book was "the most sustained attack...against the political enfranchisement of American Jews since the era of Father Coughlin." Huh? And then he denounced us as anti-Semites at a public gathering in New York City.
Yet a year or so later, Goldberg himself wrote an op-ed for The New York Times complaining about the pernicious influence of assorted right-wing American Jews, and claiming their political activities were bad for Israel. (Of course, he denied that those activities might also be bad for the United States too, which is odd given his assumption that the interests of the two states are so closely aligned.)
Now Goldberg refers to me as someone who thinks "the Jews start all wars." Does he have any evidence to support this very serious accusation? Of course not. He's just using the same tired smear tactics that Israel's defenders commonly rely on when they can’t refute what someone actually wrote.
If anyone's curious, here's my off-the-top of my head coding of Arab-Israeli wars since 1948:
1948: Palestinian Arabs attack nascent Jewish state; several Arab states eventually join in. Zionists/Israelis win, and approximately 700,000 Palestinians are expelled or flee from the new Jewish state.
1956: Israel, France, and Great Britain attack Egypt. U.S. pressure eventually forces all three to withdraw from the territories they captured in the war.
1967: Israel launches surprise attack on Egypt and then Syria. Jordan foolishly enters the war and loses the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
1969: Egypt launches the "War of Attrition" against Israeli forces along the Suez Canal Zone. Fighting ends via ceasefire agreement in June 1970.
1973: Egypt and Syria launch surprise attack against Israeli forces on the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula and are eventually repulsed by the IDF.
1982: Israel invades Lebanon and IDF occupies southern portion until 2000.
2006: Hezbollah captures/kills IDF soldiers in cross-border raid, Israel escalates to open warfare against Hezbollah and broader Lebanese society.
So I don't think "the Jews start all wars" and I never did. Maybe Goldberg thinks I "blame the Jews" for the Iraq war. If so, he’s wrong. We did write that the influence of the neoconservatives was one of the main causes of the war, a point that the neocons used to brag about and one that many other writers have made. That claim is simply not very controversial at this point: it was the neocons who dreamed up the idea and pushed it when nobody else was, so it's hard to imagine our doing it absent their influence. We also showed that once Bush was moving towards war, many of the key organizations and individuals in the Israel lobby backed the idea and helped sell it to the American people. But we also made it clear that not all the neocons are Jewish, that they "did not cause the war by themselves," that 9/11 was a critical precipitating event, and that the final decision was made by Bush and Cheney. Most importantly, we pointed out that American Jews were significantly less supportive of the invasion of Iraq than the American population as a whole, and we emphasized that "it would be a cardinal error attribute the war in Iraq to 'Jewish influence' or to 'blame the Jews' for the war."
I've given up expecting Goldberg to get much right on these issues, but it would be nice if he'd stop accusing people he disagrees with of saying things they never said or believing things they never thought.
As for Douthat, he chides Daniel Larison of The American Conservative for saying something mildly favorable about our book, and suggests that one can judge its worth by the "universally negative" reviews it received in the United States. Like Goldberg, he hints that the book is anti-Semitic, though he's a bit more subtle about it.
Douthat is correct that the mainstream reviews of the book were mostly negative, which is hardly surprising if one looks at who was chosen (or agreed) to review it. Given the hot water that Zbigniew Brzezinski got into when he said a few nice things about our original article, one can understand why people who liked the book might have been reluctant to say so in print.
In fact, the pattern of reviews does allow for an admittedly crude test of one of our arguments. We showed that people who criticize Israeli policy or the influence of the Israel lobby are virtually certain to face a firestorm of criticism and personal attacks in the United States. This is partly because such tactics are part of the standard MO for some key actors in the lobby, but also because mainstream media in the United States have tended to be protective of Israel in the past (this may be changing somewhat now). If we are right, one would expect mainstream reviews of our book in the United States to be negative, but reviews elsewhere should be more favorable. And that proved to be the case. For example, eight of the nine major reviews in the United Kingdom were positive and we received numerous favorable reviews elsewhere in Europe. Some might respond by saying that this pattern of evidence is just a sign of lingering European anti-Semitism, but then how does one explain the four positive reviews (one of them positively glowing) that we received in Israel itself, including a lengthy, thoughtful, and generally favorable review in Ha'aretz?
In any case, judging any book -- let alone a controversial one -- simply by ticking off reviews seems like an imperfect way to judge its merits. When I assign books to my students, I really do expect them to read them, and not just go out and crib from somebody's review. So here's a suggestion for those of you who are interested in this issue. Read whatever reviews you want. Heck, go ahead and read Goldberg's own screed. Then get yourself a copy of the actual book, read it, and make up your own mind. Some of you will agree with it; others undoubtedly won't. But if you detect a disconnect between what the reviewers told you about the book's contents and what you read with your own eyes, ask yourself why this is so.
I had been struck by how the economic meltdown led to a different sort of debate on domestic policy than it did on foreign policy. With respect to domestic issues, the crisis has produced a remarkable consensus on the need for dramatic action here at home, even if there some differences on exactly what ought to be done. So Wall Street gets a bailout, followed by the Big 3 automakers. A vast stimulus package is in the works. Almost everyone agrees that the financial industry needs smarter and tougher regulations. And more and more people now embrace serious health care reform. Taken together, these steps will drive the U.S. budget deficit into uncharted territory and keep it there for some time. When it comes to domestic policy, in short, the mandate for change has been obvious and mostly uncontested.
Yet when it comes to foreign policy, the economic crisis seemed to be barely noticeable, at least while Obama and McCain were still campaigning. One would think that an economic earthquake of these proportions would have produced a similar rethinking of America's global role. Instead, both Obama and McCain called for increased defense spending during the Presidential campaign -- even after the U.S. economy went into free-fall -- and confidently talked about doubling down in Afghanistan, addressing climate change, and tackling a whole array of other international problems.
It is therefore deeply refreshing to read Roger Altman's lead essay in the latest Foreign Affairs. Altman draws the obvious but still under-appreciated conclusion that when a country loses trillions of dollars in wealth in a short period, is in the grip of a serious recession, and has dim prospects for a rapid recovery, then this will inevitably impose certain constraints on how much weight it can swing abroad. The problem is even more severe when some of our key allies are similarly afflicted, and when some other significant powers are not going to be as adversely affected as we are. Altman is not in panic mode, and he's not arguing that the United States is now a pygmy on the world stage. Indeed, he makes it clear that "the United States will remain the most powerful nation on earth for a while longer." But let there be no mistake: "the crisis is an important geopolitical setback."
For a realist take on how we might respond, check out Barry Posen here. Posen's essay was written before the economy went south, but that unfortunate event makes his ideas even more relevant.
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Courtesy of Philip Weiss's blog, here is another thought experiment from New America Foundation's Daniel Levy. Note: it's not a transcript; it is Weiss's summary of a portion of a conference call that Levy conducted two days ago:
[Levy] said: We all hear, oh, the U.S. would do the same thing if Canada or Mexico were firing rockets at us. We would have a duty to respond. And yes, I think, Israel has a duty to respond, Levy said.
But then he went on to explode that analogy, and get at the core issue: Lack of Political Sovereignty. Canada and Mexico are states. Palestinians have no state. Remember, he said, that Gaza is just 4 percent of the Palestinian territories. The other 96 percent are still occupied. They have been for 40 years. And imagine that the 4 percent had been under siege, since they were unoccupied 3 years ago. And the occupied parts were crisscrossed with checkpoints and colonies.
Would it really be that surprising if in Canada or Mexico there was a hardline opposition that took over the government? And was deeply opposed to the occupier? 'I'll leave that to your imagination.'"
It bears repeating that the real value of these analogies (or "thought experiments") is not to justify any particular course of action (although plenty of politicians have been using them that way). Reality is too complicated for that, and its usually easy to argue that a particular analogy doesn't fit the concrete case one currently confronts. Rather, the real purpose is to help us examine the facile, good-versus-evil stereotypes and conventional assumptions that constitute much of the discourse about difficult political issues, and especially the Israel-Palestine conflict.
My new FP blogging associate David Rothkopf objects to my initial thought experiment, which asked whether U.S. policy might be different if the Israeli and Palestinian situations were reversed. In doing so, he demonstrates how hard it is for some people to retain their objectivity and rhetorical poise on these issues. He accuses me of being on an "jihad" against Israel (note the loaded language), and claims that I've joined an "anti-Israel lobby" whose ranks include former President Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
I'm flattered to be placed in such distinguished company, but here Rothkopf is committing the all-too-common error of assuming that critics of certain Israeli policies (and critics of the current "special relationship") are "anti-Israel." In fact, the special relationship (i.e., the policy of nearly-unconditional and uncritical support) is increasingly harmful to the Jewish state, as it makes it almost impossible for the United States to oppose Israeli actions that are misguided (such as settlement-building, or Israel's ill-founded strategy in the Lebanon War of 2006). The United States would be a better friend to Israel if we had a more normal relationship, and if U.S. leaders could talk more openly about these issues.
As for Carter, consider what former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami writes in his excellent book Scars of War, Wounds of Peace:
Carter did not hesitate to criticize Israel publicly, threaten her and even put pressure on her. As it turned out, it was this kind of President—George Bush [the elder] in the later 1980s is another case in point—who was ready to confront Israel head on and overlook the sensibilities of her friends in America that managed eventually to produce meaningful breakthroughs on the way to an Arab-Israeli peace" (p. 167, my emphasis).
The current President Bush is often described as the most "pro-Israel" President in history. Yet his policies have helped make Hamas stronger and more popular, and his cheerleading for Israel’s ill-advised war in Lebanon in 2006 ended up costing more Israeli lives and left Hezbollah in a stronger position in Lebanon. His policies also facilitated settlement expansion and made a two-state solution harder to achieve, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 ended up improving Iran's strategic position, which is hardly good for Israel. All this reinforces a point I made a few days ago: it is high time to redefine what "pro-Israel" means.
I keep thinking about President-elect Obama's decision to invite evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the Inauguration convocation. Most of the ire that greeted this announcement focused on Warren's ill-founded and offensive views on homosexuality, and especially his outspoken support of Proposition 8 in California. But was Obama aware of Warren's recent foray into foreign policy when he invited him to play such a prominent role on Inauguration Day?
Appearing on Fox News on December 3, Warren openly endorsed host Sean Hannity's declaration that "we need to take him [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] out." As one might expect, Warren invoked the Bible as his justification, saying that it says that "evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped....The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers."
I'm all for inclusiveness, but this bit of foreign policy advice is more than a little disturbing. One expects bloodthirsty bombast from Hannity, but Warren is a Christian pastor supposedly committed to certain core principles of love, humility, and forgiveness. Yet here they are casually discussing the murder of an elected foreign leader, simply because they have determined he is an "evildoer." I agree that some of Ahmadinejad's public statements are deeply offensive, ignorant, and stupid, but what exactly is the "evil" he has committed that warrants our "taking him out?"
There is in fact a well-established norm against the assassination of foreign leaders -- including all-time "evildoers" like Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the like -- and good reasons to keep that norm intact. Indeed, given recent American behavior, this is one Pandora's Box we do not want to open. According to a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee, some key Bush administration officials bore "major responsibility" for detainee abuse (read torture) and may have broken U.S. laws in doing so. And few now deny that Bush & Co. invaded Iraq on false pretenses and botched the occupation, leading directly to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, forced migration, ethnic cleansing and abundant human suffering. Whatever their aims may have been, this sounds like "evil-doing" to me. But surely Warren and Hannity don't think that some other country would be justified in "taking them out," even its leaders brandished the Bible as their justification.
President-elect Obama has repeatedly stated that we need to work out our differences with Iran through tough-minded diplomacy, yet the convocation prayer at his inauguration will be given by a man who apparently thinks we ought to assassinate Iran's president.
Once inaugurated, let's hope Obama runs U.S. foreign policy with a bit more consistency. In the meantime, Rick Warren should be more careful when he opines about foreign policy. In return, I promise that this blog will remain quietly discreet on matters of theology. In the meantime, the President-elect might ask himself why he has such questionable taste in preachers.
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Based on a report by Chris Nelson, Jim Lobe passes on some rumored appointments for Team Obama:
1. Dennis Ross supposedly gets the Iran portfolio, which is more than a little worrisome but ought to help resurrect falling oil prices.
2. Richard Haass said to be slated as special envoy for Israel-Arab affairs. This is about the best us realists could expect. I've differed with Richard on a few issues over the years, but he's a smart, tough centrist who understands that the approach that Clinton and Bush 43 took towards this problem were abject failures. Welcome back, Bush 41?
3. Richard Holbrooke reportedly gets to be special envoy for India-Pakistan. He could face an even tougher task than Haass will: here's hoping he can do for that region what he did for the Balkans. But is this the Blackwill precedent at work (i.e., send a talented but temperamental diplomat as far from DC as possible?).
And Princeton's Anne-Marie Slaughter is slated for policy planning at State -- my sources tell me this one is true, but we won’t know what it means until we see how Hillary decides to use that shop.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.