Recently in International Affairs Category
Walter Russell Mead writes (the day before I did) that President Obama doesn't understand the emotional side of leadership. Read the whole thing if you can bear it.
ISIS is a master of the pornography of politics and the pornography of perverted religion: slave girls, heads on spikes, executions uploaded to the internet, naked defiance in the face of its enemies. ISIS isn't trying to win a conventional geopolitical chess match, it wants to electrify millions of potential supporters and change the nature of the game. The execution of American hostages succeeded brilliantly, from an ISIS point of view. It has made President Obama look weak, forced him to change his entire Middle East policy and brought the jihadi movement back into the world spotlight. The politics of spectacle has eclipsed Al-Qaeda, weakened Assad's position, drawn the awe and admiration of jihadi wanna-bes and funders, and elevated 30,000 thugs and nutjobs to a major force in global events. Yes, that elevation carries with it the risk of serious pushback and even conventional military defeat, but jihadi ideology has benefited enormously from what ISIS has accomplished so far. ISIS still isn't going to conquer the world, but radical Islam is closer than ever to launching the clash of civilizations of which bin Laden dreamed.
ISIS has much less money than President Obama does, many fewer fighters, much less equipment and in every other conventional measure of power it is a pipsqueak compared to the Leader of the Free World. But who is acting, and who is reacting? Who is dancing to whose tune?
ISIS doesn't need President Obama's advice; it clearly knows its job better than he does. The same thing is true of Putin; the Russian president has a much weaker hand, objectively speaking, than President Obama, but in part because President Putin understands the importance of spectacle and momentum in politics, he has been able to run rings around the Vulcan-in-Chief.
Drama and spectacle are among the assets that successful world leaders employ; that doesn't mean that those leaders are hotheaded or stupid. The impression, hopefully inaccurate, that the Baker piece gives us is of a president who knows things aren't working but doesn't think he has anything to learn. If that is really where this president is, he and we have some hard times ahead.
Is it ever better to make a quick decision than to take your time and be more deliberative? This anonymously-sourced account of President Obama's deliberations about ISIS portrays the President as very thoughtful and concerned with making "the right decision", and he seems keenly aware that his opponents (myself included) view him as indecisive. In my opinion, the President is wrong to ignore the emotional dimension of leadership -- sometimes you can make the best decision at the wrong time and come out worse than if you had made a worse decision at the right time.
"Oh, it's a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than 'don't do stupid things,' " guests recalled [Obama] saying, sarcastically imitating his adversaries. "I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn't make for good theater." ...
It was clear to the guests how aware Mr. Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership. He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.
"He's definitely feeling it," said one guest. At one point, Mr. Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Reagan, he noted, is hailed as a titan striding the earth.
"He's not a softy," Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and attended the dinner Monday, said of Mr. Obama. "I think part of the problem with some of his critics is they think he's a softy. He's not a softy. But he's a person who tries to think through these events so you can draw some long-term conclusions."
President Reagan was a master of the emotional side of leadership, a talent that President Obama appears to completely lack -- or intentionally avoid. I can relate to the President: acting on emotion is not something that comes naturally to me -- my tendency is to sideline my emotions and attempt to make decisions based on reason alone. However, I've come to realize that when it comes to leading others it's critical to engage emotionally with your team, and decisiveness is an important component of that engagement.
The new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal/Annenberg Poll finds 62% of Americans support Obama taking action against ISIS.
But fully 68% of his countrymen say they have "very little" or "just some" confidence that Obama will achieve his newly-discovered strategic goals of degrading and defeating ISIS through bombing and an international coalition.
Perhaps worse, only slightly more than one-in-four (28%) have "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence their president will achieve the murderous group's demise.
Part of the faith deficit stems from Obama's chronic tardiness, in person and in policy. You may recall for years now, even after the deadly Benghazi attack proved him delusional, Obama's been touting how badly al Qaeda's leadership had been "decimated" and how dead Osama bin Laden was.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
The ongoing Ebola outbreak may be connected to infected bats.
The genomic sequencing also offers hints as to how the Ebola "Zaire" strain at the heart of the current outbreak -- one of five types of Ebola virus known to infect humans -- likely ended up in West Africa in the first place. Researchers said the data suggests that the virus spread from an animal host, possibly bats, and that diverged around 2004 from an Ebola strain in central Africa, where previous outbreaks have occurred.
One of the easiest ways to weaponize the virus wouldn't require any sophisticated technology: simply gather bodily fluids from Ebola victims, bring it to your target area, and scatter it on some native mammals. Some of the animals might die from Ebola, but other species might be resistant and might carry the virus as easily as the bats did.
Dogs in one community in Liberia are reportedly eating the remains of dead Ebola victims lying on the streets. ...
Dr. Stephen Korsman of the University of Cape Town's medical virology division tells News 24 that dogs can be infected with the Ebola virus but that "infections appear to be asymptomatic."
"This means that dogs won't get sick, but they still could carry a potential risk through licking or biting," Korsman explained to News 24.
Now you've created a native reservoir of Ebola in your target area that will periodically break out and infect humans and might be impossible to eradicate.
The UN is now saying that the Ebola outbreak could hit 20,000 people, but if it hits that many how could it possibly hit so few?
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing the virus, and scientists are fast-tracking efforts to find a treatment or vaccine.
Ebola has menaced Africa for 40 years, but previously struck in remote villages and was contained fairly quickly. This time, it has spread to major cities in four countries, provoking unrest as whole neighborhoods and towns have been sealed to the outside.
Absent a vaccine (which is being worked on) I don't see how a highly contagious virus could be contained among 20,000 people. With that large a population of infected people the security perimeter just seems too big.
Furthermore, many of the infected Africans are Muslim, and the Hajj is in October this year. If there are thousands of known infections -- and many more unknown -- how likely is it that Ebola won't be carried to Mecca? The Hajj could very well be an inflection point for the outbreak, allowing Ebola to spread rapidly around the world.
Dr. Sebastian Gorka claims that there's a Christian Holocaust going on in Iraq now, with Christians being eradicated by Islamic terrorists across the region. The United States should act in some way to prevent or mitigate this religious cleansing. Fellow Christians should pray for safety for these brethren and pray that this adversity is an opportunity for the gospel to reach new corners of the world.
When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, there were at least 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Over the last ten years, significantly in the last few months with the emergence of ISIS, that figure has dropped to about 400,000.
In a region where Christians predate Muslims by centuries, over one million Christians have been killed or have had to flee because of jihadi persecution, while America is basically standing by and watching. This is the sad news that Breitbart's National Security Editor and one of the world's leading experts on asymmetric warfare, Dr. Sebastian
Dr. Gorka explained that "in the last 48 hours, ISIS, which is now called the Islamic State in Mosul, has painted the letter "N" for Nazarene on the houses of all the surviving Christians in the city. ISIS has basically given an ultimatum to all the Christians left: You can either flee or convert to Islam, or we will kill you."
Charles Krauthammer proclaims Israel's moral superiority over Hamas, but it's important to note that the Palestinians in Gaza are victims as well as aggressors -- they're victims of Hamas just like Israel is. To the extent that the civilians support a murderous, self-destructive terrorist government like Hamas they bring destruction on themselves, but let's not forget who bears the bulk of the guilt.
Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza cease-fire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.
"Here's the difference between us," explains the Israeli prime minister. "We're using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they're using their civilians to protect their missiles."
Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel-Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent "cycle of violence." This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows the proudly self-declared raison d'etre of Hamas: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.
Walter Russell Mead has some great thoughts on what happens if America reaches a deal with Iran that successfully limits their development of nuclear weapons and lifts sanctions. Rather than looking at whether or not such an agreement is possible, WRM points out that Iran doesn't need nuclear weapons to establish itself as a regional power and exert a lot of influence on the world's oil supply.
Thus, the people in Iran arguing for a nuclear deal could be making a very realpolitik, power-maximizing argument saying that Iran should prioritize establishing a regional hegemony over acquiring nuclear weapons. Then, when the regional hegemony is established, the U.S. will be even less willing or able to oppose Iran's nuclear drive than it is now, and a nuclear Iran that is also a regional hegemon would have immense power over the world's oil supply. Iran's dream of becoming a true global great power would have been reached.
What's extremely troubling and alarming about the establishment press debate over the nuclear agreement with Iran is that the deal's partisans by and large simply don't engage with this absolutely vital and indispensable question. This is the kind of silence that frequently occurs when a political establishment is about to make a truly monumental blunder; history's worst decisions are made by people with blinkers on, who ignore the wider implications of the choices they are making and concentrate of a limited and narrow set of considerations. To think about the Iran deal solely as a question of non-proliferation is to miss the essence of Iran's national strategy and its potential consequences for U.S. interests. Americans need to know whether the administration has really thought this issue through and, if it hasn't, there needs to be strong pressure from Congress and elsewhere for a serious and in depth reappraisal to begin.
So how does this play out well for America? I hope some smart people are figuring it out.
Ali Khedery gives an insider's view of why Iraq is collapsing, and it's all because America stuck with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
It seems like it takes at least one generation of occupation to really tamp down the flames of religious/ethnic civil war. The victors' military presence needs to outlast the most violence-prone years of the men who fought against them (basically ages 20-50 or so).
I have known Maliki, or Abu Isra, as he is known to people close to him, for more than a decade. I have traveled across three continents with him. I know his family and his inner circle. When Maliki was an obscure member of parliament, I was among the very few Americans in Baghdad who took his phone calls. In 2006, I helped introduce him to the U.S. ambassador, recommending him as a promising option for prime minister. In 2008, I organized his medevac when he fell ill, and I accompanied him for treatment in London, spending 18 hours a day with him at Wellington Hospital. In 2009, I lobbied skeptical regional royals to support Maliki's government.
By 2010, however, I was urging the vice president of the United States and the White House senior staff to withdraw their support for Maliki. I had come to realize that if he remained in office, he would create a divisive, despotic and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests.
So Detroit has fallen so far that the United Nations is stepping in to advocate access to clean water for residents. This is obviously ridiculous because the majority of delinquent utility accounts can certainly afford to pay their bills. However, despite my antipathy for the collection of despots and bureaucrats we call the UN, it's not clear whether they or Detroit comes out of this looking more foolish. Detroit is still a major city in the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the world, right?
WND has learned that after issuing a statement last week condemning Detroit's decision to send water shut-off notices to tens of thousands of customers behind in their payments, the U.N now plans to conduct confidential policy discussions with the Obama administration to be followed by a formal public report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
On Monday, the U.N. Human Rights Council's office in Geneva confirmed to WND that the U.N. plans to intervene directly in the Detroit water crisis, determined to apply international law to judge the U.S. in violation of human rights to safe water.
Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, DWSD, announced in March it would send shut-off notices to customers with balances more than $150 overdue or who are more than two months behind in their payments. The department, which said nearly half of the 324,000 water and sewerage accounts are overdue, has put out 46,000 notices since March. About 4,500 accounts have had their water shut off.
In light of the recent America-Taliban prisoner exchange it can be helpful to consider prisoners of war throughout history. Conditions have varied based on time and place, but the 1648 Peace of Westphalia it seems that more POWs were simply executed or enslaved. After Westphalia and the Geneva Convention, prisoner exchanges became more common.
It seems there is some controversy over whether Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was deserting when he was captured by the Taliban in 2009. If there is sufficient evidence to support such a claim, then I hope Bergdahl is prosecuted appropriately.
However, it's still good to have an American POW released. Some people are responding to this prisoner exchange as if it were a hostage negotiation with terrorists, but I don't think the same rules should apply to POWs and hostages.
"If you negotiate here, you've sent a message to every Al Qaeda group in the world -- by the way, some who are holding U.S. hostages today -- that there is some value now in that hostage in a way that they didn't have before," Mr. Rogers said on the CNN program "State of the Union." He added, "That is dangerous."
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a video released in 2010. Sergeant Bergdahl was freed on Saturday in a prisoner swap with the Taliban. Credit IntelCenter, via Associated Press
But Ms. Rice said: "Sergeant Bergdahl wasn't simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield. We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who are taken in battle, and we did that in this instance." She was speaking on the ABC program "This Week."
It's hard for me to say if it was wise to trade five "senior Taliban commanders" for Bergdahl, but I'll give the President the benefit of the doubt.
Putin is conquering Ukraine by referendum and it makes me wonder if such a strategy could be used to gobble up American territory? Are there any populations who live in US territories who would vote for independence if given a chance? Would they then join a neighboring country? Texas comes to mind as a potential for independence, but I doubt they'd join themselves to Mexico. Who else?
Putin is forcing Ukraine to use Western aid money to pay Ukrainian debts to Russia -- debts that Russia forebeared while Ukraine was in its orbit.
Also later Friday, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union will hold talks over debts running into billions of dollars that state-run Russian gas firm Gazprom says Kiev owes.
Putin has warned that not paying the bill, which Gazprom estimates at $3.5 billion, could lead to him turning off the taps, which would also affect several European countries.
Kiev is expected to use part of a $17-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, announced on Wednesday, to settle the bill.
Whatever aid money the West sends to Ukraine will end up enriching Russia.
Austin Bay has some suggested hard-power responses we can make to Russia's annexation of Crimea. I particularly endorse the expansion of fracking and the exporting of American natural gas to Europe.
Russian hard-power aggression, annexation and expansion require a hard-power response. Here are some I recommend: (1) We can't flip-flop NATO Article 5, NATO's commitment to mutual defense. The U.S. must demonstrate it takes its NATO obligations seriously. So, deploy U.S. troops to Poland. The U.S. withdrew its last tanks from Germany in 2013. The Poland garrison needs a U.S. armor brigade. (2) Cancel all defense budget cuts. Faculty club snark aside, peace through strength means something. (3) Open federal lands to natural gas "fracking" and start shipping gas to Europe. Undermining Russian gas sales is a real economic sanction. (4) Arm the Baltic nations. They are also NATO allies. And (5) deploy the GBI's to Poland, and build a more robust missile defense system. As for permanently deploying U.S. Patriot PAC-3 short-range anti-missile missiles in Poland -- that's an idea whose time has come.
On Monday Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying "I told you so" on Russia -- that they are our greatest geopolitical opponent. When he first said so during a presidential debate with President Obama, he was widely ridiculed and Obama riposted with "the 80s called, and they want their foreign policy back". Well, Romney was right, and now he gets to rub the President's face in it.
Why are there no good choices? From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, Russia owns Crimea and all we can do is sanction and disinvite--and wring our hands.
Iran is following North Korea's nuclear path, but it seems that we can only entreat Iran to sign the same kind of agreement North Korea once signed, undoubtedly with the same result.
Our tough talk about a red line in Syria prompted Vladimir Putin's sleight of hand, leaving the chemicals and killings much as they were. We say Bashar Assad must go, but aligning with his al Qaeda-backed opposition is an unacceptable option.
And how can it be that Iraq and Afghanistan each refused to sign the status-of-forces agreement with us--with the very nation that shed the blood of thousands of our bravest for them?
Why, across the world, are America's hands so tied?
A large part of the answer is our leader's terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, "a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."
Romney is right: the reason we have "no good options" now is that Obama's foreign policy didn't protect our decision space. If I were to play chess with Garry Kasparov it might look (to a naive observer) as if nothing much happened for a while... but then I'd quickly find myself with no good options. I wouldn't run out of good moves because of misfortune, acts of God, or inevitability -- I would run out of good moves because I would be outmaneuvered and outplayed. That's where America is now. We've been strategically outmaneuvered and outplayed by our geopolitical opponents, and it's only becoming obvious now that we're out of good moves.
Final thought: maybe we should try to get some Reagan-era foreign policy going?
The missing Malaysian airliner is quite a mystery and most likely a tragedy; our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.
It appears that two passengers on the plane were flying with stolen passports, but it's unclear to me how common this is. The Malaysian Home Minister thinks that the security screeners should have noticed something amiss:
Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the unidentified passengers appeared to be Asians, and blasted the border officials who let them through while carrying passports from Austria and Italy.
"Can't these immigration officials think? Italian and Austrian [passport holders] but with Asian faces," Hamidi fumed.
Waltern Russell Mead concisely explains the nuclear angle to the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. By failing to protect Ukraine's borders, America reinforces yet again the value to every country to be able to guarantee it's own security with nuclear weapons. That's a huge failure.
Here's the rub. When Ukraine escaped from the Soviet Union in 1990, Soviet nukes from the Cold War were still stationed on Ukrainian territory. After a lot of negotiation, Ukraine agreed to return those nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for what (perhaps naively) its leaders at the time thought would be solid security guarantees from the United States and the United Kingdom. The "Budapest Memorandum" as this agreement is called, does not in fact require the United States to do very much. We can leave Ukraine twisting in the wind without breaking our limited formal obligations under the pact.
If President Obama does this, however, and Ukraine ends up losing chunks of territory to Russia, it is pretty much the end of a rational case for non-proliferation in many countries around the world. If Ukraine still had its nukes, it would probably still have Crimea. It gave up its nukes, got worthless paper guarantees, and also got an invasion from a more powerful and nuclear neighbor.
The choice here could not be more stark. Keep your nukes and keep your land. Give up your nukes and get raped. This will be the second time that Obama administration policy has taught the rest of the world that nuclear weapons are important things to have. The Great Loon of Libya gave up his nuclear program and the west, as other leaders see it, came in and wasted him.
I've been watching the uncontested annexation of Crimea by Russia over the past several days with astonishment. President Obama, America, and the rest of the world have basically shrugged the whole thing off. Obviously everyone is "deeply concerned", but apparently no one is going to actually do anything.
Obama expressed "deep concern" over Russia's moves, suggested Putin's troops leave and warned the occupation "would negatively impact Russia's standing in the international community." ...
Of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest Obama's passivity toward Putin is connected to the American's overheard promise of post-election "flexibility" to Putin's predecessor back in 2012. So, we won't.
Here's how Col. Putin responded to Obama's words of warning: He sent more Russian troops into Crimea.
Mead points out that Putin will probably keep Crimea and steal whatever aid the West gives to Ukraine.
Now Putin seems to be seizing the most important military assets Russia holds in the country and can reasonably hope to increase Russia's influence throughout the country as a weak government struggles with intractable problems. Meanwhile, he is probably licking his chops over the unpalatable choices Western statesmen now face. If the West doesn't ship billions of dollars to Ukraine, the current government will fail and national unity will fray. If the West comes across with the dough, Putin has a number possibilities for working the situation to his benefit. He can, for example, raise the natural gas price to a Ukraine flush with Western aid dollars, or demand repayment of Ukraine's existing debts to Moscow, transferring Western aid money into Russian pockets.
Maybe the calculation is that Russia is in a demographic death spiral anyway, so what's the point of fighting over territory that is full of people who seem to want to be a part of Russia.
It seems that Obama's calcuation in international crises is always to do nothing. Syria, Iran, Crimea, Snowden, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq.... It's hard to see how "do nothing" is always in the interests of the world's Superpower.
Drudge announces that Ukrainian opposition forces have siezed the capitol and that the president of Ukraine has fled. It's unlikely that Putin in Russia is going to stand for Ukraine as a whole drawing closer to the West, so we might be witnessing the beginning of our generation's major European war.
Ukraine's opposition has asserted its authority over Kiev and parliament in a day of fast-paced events.
MPs have replace the parliamentary speaker and attorney general, appointed a new pro-opposition interior minister and voted to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Police appear to have abandoned their posts across the capital.
Protesters in Kiev have walked unchallenged into the president's official and residential buildings.
Will aircraft carriers go the way of battleships? It's particularly hard to protect aircraft carriers from large numbers of long-range missiles/drones. If aircraft carriers are becoming obsolete, what will air dominance look like in 20 years?
They will have some use in particular situations and environments, he said, but a carrier will never deploy anywhere it does not have absolute air domination and in some cases it would simply not have that.
"It won't be a useful weapon in the Taiwan Straits, and it may not be one 15 years from now, depending on how many nations have hypersonic missiles," he said.