Commentary Magazine


Topic: G-8

Bureaucracy 101

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. Read More

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. As of April 30, 2010, for example, the panel compiling the report found that only 48 UN member nations had submitted their “national implementation reports” for the provisions of the 2009 round of sanctions. The national reports, according to the panel, “vary considerably in content, detail, and format.” The panel acknowledges that this is at least partly because the original UN resolutions didn’t specify that certain significant measures be reported (e.g., withholding pier services from North Korean ships or refusing training to North Korean specialists).

The UN panel observes – without editorializing – that North Korea basically remains free to operate shell companies in a number of other nations. As outside investment in North Korea declines, however, Pyongyang’s economic reliance on China is growing. It’s evident from the incidents recounted in the report that the typical maritime shipment of prohibited cargo from North Korea makes its first stop in China – but the report doesn’t explicitly make that point.

It does, on the other hand, convey the good news that vigilant officials in Japan and Italy have been able to prevent the delivery of two yachts, four Mercedes-Benzes, and 37 pianos to North Korea. Unfortunately, these are rare instances; the UN panel states, on a regretful note, that the interdiction of luxury goods “continues to lag.” In general, successful interdiction of goods both into and out of North Korea is hampered, in the panel’s view, by a lack of uniformity in shipping documentation and the lack of a single, all-encompassing list of prohibited items. Apparently, member states have to consult multiple lists to determine what is prohibited.

The wonder here is that any cargo interdiction happens at all. The bottom line is something we knew already: G-8 governments are acting with some level of vigilance, but there are big, unplugged holes in the sanctions; China is an unacknowledged vulnerability; and there are large swaths of territory in Asia and Africa where no attempt at enforcement is being made. This is our approach, as a collective of nations, to preventing the proliferation of WMD.

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Japan: Russia Piling On

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

As Americans turn their attention inward, China and Russia are beginning to make geopolitical moves that evoke nothing so much as the environment of the 1930s. I have written elsewhere about China’s dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and Beijing’s resort to a direct confrontation over them in September. Russia added to Japan’s troubles last week, when Dmitry Medvedev planned to make an unprecedented visit to the Kuril Islands in the north, which have been disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was curtailed by bad weather on this occasion (a verifiable excuse, incidentally). But his government has affirmed that he will visit the islands in the near future. In fact, it has doubled down by calling Japan’s claims to the Kurils a “dead end” and flatly warning Japan against complaining about the visit.

Seen as a signal, this uncompromising Russian attitude is very different from the attitude shown by the same government almost exactly a year ago. In late September 2009, Medvedev was shaking hands with then-Prime Minister Hatoyama and vowing solemnly to “work together” to resolve the question of the Kuril Islands. Indeed, there was speculation at the time that Russia was wooing Japan, hoping to weaken Tokyo’s ties with the U.S. As with the Senkakus dispute, the one over the Kurils involves economic claims. But Russia and Japan have set a standard for cooperative development in exploiting the natural gas of Russia’s nearby Sakhalin Island. The ugly face shown by Russia in the past few days is a new one, at least where Japan is concerned.

Its significance cannot be overemphasized. In approaching this confrontation, Russia is effectively treating Japan — a G-8 nation, economic powerhouse, and U.S. ally — the way it treated Georgia in the months leading up to the 2008 invasion. The dispute is over tangible territory, and Russia is pressing its claims coincident with China’s confrontational campaign to the south. Unless the U.S. steps in to prevent the extortion of Japan, the Kan government in Tokyo is faced with a choice between evils. To gain the support of either Moscow or Beijing, Japan would — at the very least — have to cede effective control of the islands in question. In all likelihood, Japan might see both island chains occupied by the other claimants.

Japan’s other option is to assert its claims with military force. This is not infeasible if the Japanese choose their tactics carefully, but it would infuriate and galvanize Russia and China. Only one outcome can avert an onset of instability in the Far East: America enforcing Japan’s position that the disputes over the islands must be resolved peacefully and not through extortion. Uttering sympathetic bromides will not suffice in this case. China and Russia have already proved that they are prepared to breach the conditions of good-faith resolutions. Direct assertion of a U.S. security interest is the only thing that will work — and the U.S posture must not be subverted by Russia or China turning this issue into a perpetual bargaining chip in larger, unrelated negotiations.

This is a bad trend that will not right itself. Either Obama stops it before it gets started, or all our security problems are about to get much harder.

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Sestak Struggling

The Pennsylvania media reports that Joe Sestak is floundering:

More than midway through the political calendar, Sestak seems endlessly on the defensive. It’s partly of his own doing, but largely because Toomey, with a sharper message and flush finances, has been the aggressor.

So far, Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate battle has been fought on Toomey’s terms.

Sestak has taken a beating on his Israel record, forcing him to go on MSNBC to deny that it’s a significant issue and to call in J Street for support. (The J Street gang ponied up only a tiny ad buy.) But that isn’t Sestak’s only problem:

Two days after the May 18 primary, Toomey went on the air with a commercial that highlighted Sestak’s support for health [care] reform, bailouts, and civilian trials for foreign terrorists. A few days later, after Sestak had appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, Toomey’s campaign sent out a press release saying the interview showcased Sestak’s “sham independence.” …

Toomey has aired six television commercials about Sestak, painting him as an extreme liberal to the left of most members of his political party. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce aired two commercials linking Sestak to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and calling him “anti-business.”

Sestak tried to strike back last week by enlisting the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to bandy charges that Toomey was a derivatives trader who helped sink the economy. The charges were generally derided as untrue, and Toomey surged to a nine-point lead in the race. Meanwhile, Sestak strained to explain why he had accepted campaign donations from recipients of earmarks, something he pledged to not do.

Sestak has suffered on three counts: his ultra-liberal voting record, the generally toxic political environment for the Democrats, and a certain incoherence in his own campaign. A case in point is the endorsement by former Sen. Chuck Hagel. This comes at a time when Sestak has labored to rebut attacks on his own Israel record and on his keynote address for CAIR. But Hagel seems a particularly poor messenger for Sestak. The National Democratic Jewish Council explained in 2007:

As Senator Hagel sits around for six more months and tries to decide whether to launch a futile bid for the White House, he has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.  Consider this:

- In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

- In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.

- In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasir Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.

- In December 2005, Hagel  was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections.

- In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit. …

And here’s what the anti-Israel group, CAIR wrote in praise of Hagel:

“Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel…” [Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06]

Not exactly an effective way to rebut arguments that his instincts lead him to positions — and allies — that are anti-Israel.

Sestak has time to recover, but he may not have the ability to. On this one, the White House might have been right: Arlen Specter was the more viable of the two Democratic contenders.

The Pennsylvania media reports that Joe Sestak is floundering:

More than midway through the political calendar, Sestak seems endlessly on the defensive. It’s partly of his own doing, but largely because Toomey, with a sharper message and flush finances, has been the aggressor.

So far, Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate battle has been fought on Toomey’s terms.

Sestak has taken a beating on his Israel record, forcing him to go on MSNBC to deny that it’s a significant issue and to call in J Street for support. (The J Street gang ponied up only a tiny ad buy.) But that isn’t Sestak’s only problem:

Two days after the May 18 primary, Toomey went on the air with a commercial that highlighted Sestak’s support for health [care] reform, bailouts, and civilian trials for foreign terrorists. A few days later, after Sestak had appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, Toomey’s campaign sent out a press release saying the interview showcased Sestak’s “sham independence.” …

Toomey has aired six television commercials about Sestak, painting him as an extreme liberal to the left of most members of his political party. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce aired two commercials linking Sestak to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and calling him “anti-business.”

Sestak tried to strike back last week by enlisting the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to bandy charges that Toomey was a derivatives trader who helped sink the economy. The charges were generally derided as untrue, and Toomey surged to a nine-point lead in the race. Meanwhile, Sestak strained to explain why he had accepted campaign donations from recipients of earmarks, something he pledged to not do.

Sestak has suffered on three counts: his ultra-liberal voting record, the generally toxic political environment for the Democrats, and a certain incoherence in his own campaign. A case in point is the endorsement by former Sen. Chuck Hagel. This comes at a time when Sestak has labored to rebut attacks on his own Israel record and on his keynote address for CAIR. But Hagel seems a particularly poor messenger for Sestak. The National Democratic Jewish Council explained in 2007:

As Senator Hagel sits around for six more months and tries to decide whether to launch a futile bid for the White House, he has a lot of questions to answer about his commitment to Israel.  Consider this:

- In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 Senators who refused to write the EU asking them to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

- In October 2000, Hagel was one of only 4 Senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.

- In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 Senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasir Arafat until his forces ended the violence against Israel.

- In December 2005, Hagel  was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter to President Bush to pressure the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups from participating in Palestinian legislative elections.

- In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit. …

And here’s what the anti-Israel group, CAIR wrote in praise of Hagel:

“Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel…” [Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06]

Not exactly an effective way to rebut arguments that his instincts lead him to positions — and allies — that are anti-Israel.

Sestak has time to recover, but he may not have the ability to. On this one, the White House might have been right: Arlen Specter was the more viable of the two Democratic contenders.

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The Futile Engagement-Pressure-Containment-Engagement Loop

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was asked about President Obama’s statement that UN sanctions on Iran could occur “within weeks.” Toner confirmed there is not yet a draft resolution and cautioned that Obama had “noted that we don’t have international consensus yet.” But as we enter the fourth month after Iran ignored the last of the president’s deadlines, a conference call to pursue lowest-common-denominator sanctions “shows how serious we are.” Toner continued:

What we do have is broad support among the P-5+1 for a dual-track approach. The President was quite clear yesterday in saying that we’ve tried the engagement track and we’re now moving towards the pressure track. The engagement part of it is not off the table, but we’re moving with deliberation on the pressure track now. And we’re consulting, and the P-5+1 call within that context just shows how serious we are.

Haaretz describes the conference call Toner referenced, in which the U.S., Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and China reportedly agreed to begin drafting a UN resolution. “While the agreement seems to be an achievement for the Obama administration, China will agree only to relatively weak sanctions, [Reuters] quoted diplomats as saying.”

The sanctions – which the administration was supposedly working on all last year to prepare for the possibility that engagement might not succeed — will not be crippling; they will “bite” only around Iran’s ankles; and it is unclear, in Sarah Palin’s phrase, whether they will even “nibble.” But after they fail, we will move to containment, and then we will be in the same situation we currently face with North Korea — which Toner also described yesterday:

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said yesterday at the joint press briefing with G-8 foreign ministers that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. So isn’t [the] new U.S. Government position to acknowledge North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons?

MR. TONER: On North Korea, I would just say that we remain steadfastly committed to getting the Six-Party Talks going again. North Korea knows what it has to do and we’re trying to get them back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Yeah, but how about the fact that they already have nuclear weapons? That’s what she mentioned yesterday.

MR. TONER: We’re still – our goal remains the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s what we’re trying to achieve through the Six-Party process. So we just urge North Korea to get back to the negotiating table.

Watching U.S. diplomacy with North Korea, Iran can feel some confidence about what will happen if it completes its nuclear-weapons program: undoubtedly, we will still be steadfastly committed to getting talks with Iran going again; we will state that Iran knows what it has to do (let us process their nuclear fuel for them while we talk); we will repeat that our goal remains the denuclearization of the Middle East; and we will urge Iran to return to the negotiating table.

The engagement strategy is a unique contribution to American diplomacy: it is used only on adversaries (allies get less courteous treatment); it is never off the table; it remains there while other options are pursued; it will still be there when they fail; and it will continue even after it is overtaken by events. The Haaretz report ends with a small vignette indicating engagement may be somewhat harder later on:

When a senior representative from Pyongyang was asked in Moscow last month at an international conference on nuclear proliferation what assurances his country needed for its security, he said: “We do not have to talk. We have nuclear weapons.”

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was asked about President Obama’s statement that UN sanctions on Iran could occur “within weeks.” Toner confirmed there is not yet a draft resolution and cautioned that Obama had “noted that we don’t have international consensus yet.” But as we enter the fourth month after Iran ignored the last of the president’s deadlines, a conference call to pursue lowest-common-denominator sanctions “shows how serious we are.” Toner continued:

What we do have is broad support among the P-5+1 for a dual-track approach. The President was quite clear yesterday in saying that we’ve tried the engagement track and we’re now moving towards the pressure track. The engagement part of it is not off the table, but we’re moving with deliberation on the pressure track now. And we’re consulting, and the P-5+1 call within that context just shows how serious we are.

Haaretz describes the conference call Toner referenced, in which the U.S., Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and China reportedly agreed to begin drafting a UN resolution. “While the agreement seems to be an achievement for the Obama administration, China will agree only to relatively weak sanctions, [Reuters] quoted diplomats as saying.”

The sanctions – which the administration was supposedly working on all last year to prepare for the possibility that engagement might not succeed — will not be crippling; they will “bite” only around Iran’s ankles; and it is unclear, in Sarah Palin’s phrase, whether they will even “nibble.” But after they fail, we will move to containment, and then we will be in the same situation we currently face with North Korea — which Toner also described yesterday:

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said yesterday at the joint press briefing with G-8 foreign ministers that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. So isn’t [the] new U.S. Government position to acknowledge North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons?

MR. TONER: On North Korea, I would just say that we remain steadfastly committed to getting the Six-Party Talks going again. North Korea knows what it has to do and we’re trying to get them back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Yeah, but how about the fact that they already have nuclear weapons? That’s what she mentioned yesterday.

MR. TONER: We’re still – our goal remains the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s what we’re trying to achieve through the Six-Party process. So we just urge North Korea to get back to the negotiating table.

Watching U.S. diplomacy with North Korea, Iran can feel some confidence about what will happen if it completes its nuclear-weapons program: undoubtedly, we will still be steadfastly committed to getting talks with Iran going again; we will state that Iran knows what it has to do (let us process their nuclear fuel for them while we talk); we will repeat that our goal remains the denuclearization of the Middle East; and we will urge Iran to return to the negotiating table.

The engagement strategy is a unique contribution to American diplomacy: it is used only on adversaries (allies get less courteous treatment); it is never off the table; it remains there while other options are pursued; it will still be there when they fail; and it will continue even after it is overtaken by events. The Haaretz report ends with a small vignette indicating engagement may be somewhat harder later on:

When a senior representative from Pyongyang was asked in Moscow last month at an international conference on nuclear proliferation what assurances his country needed for its security, he said: “We do not have to talk. We have nuclear weapons.”

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Obama’s Iran Deadline Gets Thrown Down the Memory Hole

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

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The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

Read Less

The World Inverted?

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

Read Less

Out of the CFE

Today, in a Soviet-era margin of 418-0, the Duma approved a law to end compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. The legislation still has to go to the upper house. If passed there—which is most likely because the Russian political system is becoming more predictable by the day—the legislation will go to the desk of President Vladimir Putin for signature. The suspension is slated to take effect on December 12. In July, Putin gave the formal 150-day notice of the suspension.

The West considers the CFE, as the pact is known, the cornerstone of security on the continent. The 1990 agreement limits the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft between the Atlantic and the Urals. No one expects a large set-piece battle on the European plains, so Russia’s suspension is seen as a sign of unhappiness about the treaty and a gambit to gain an edge in negotiations to change its terms.

Each side has numerous complaints about the other’s fulfillment of CFE obligations. The West, for instance, is concerned about Moscow’s failure to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin, for its part, is upset over the temporary basing of American troops in Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, each side has non-CFE complaints against the other involving security in Europe.

So it’s time for us to confront reality. Relations between the Atlantic partners and Russia are now approaching those of a failing marriage. Whether we blame the Russians or the West for the breakdown, we should recognize that broad partnership with Moscow is no longer possible (or at least not possible for the foreseeable future). We cannot continue living the one-world dream. In short, we need to begin building a new security architecture not based on cooperation with the Russians. As a first step, the first seven members of the G-8 should disinvite Moscow. After all, what is an angry mafia state doing in a group of free-market economies? Will Putin be upset? Undoubtedly. But what problems in the world is he helping to solve now?

Today, in a Soviet-era margin of 418-0, the Duma approved a law to end compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. The legislation still has to go to the upper house. If passed there—which is most likely because the Russian political system is becoming more predictable by the day—the legislation will go to the desk of President Vladimir Putin for signature. The suspension is slated to take effect on December 12. In July, Putin gave the formal 150-day notice of the suspension.

The West considers the CFE, as the pact is known, the cornerstone of security on the continent. The 1990 agreement limits the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft between the Atlantic and the Urals. No one expects a large set-piece battle on the European plains, so Russia’s suspension is seen as a sign of unhappiness about the treaty and a gambit to gain an edge in negotiations to change its terms.

Each side has numerous complaints about the other’s fulfillment of CFE obligations. The West, for instance, is concerned about Moscow’s failure to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin, for its part, is upset over the temporary basing of American troops in Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, each side has non-CFE complaints against the other involving security in Europe.

So it’s time for us to confront reality. Relations between the Atlantic partners and Russia are now approaching those of a failing marriage. Whether we blame the Russians or the West for the breakdown, we should recognize that broad partnership with Moscow is no longer possible (or at least not possible for the foreseeable future). We cannot continue living the one-world dream. In short, we need to begin building a new security architecture not based on cooperation with the Russians. As a first step, the first seven members of the G-8 should disinvite Moscow. After all, what is an angry mafia state doing in a group of free-market economies? Will Putin be upset? Undoubtedly. But what problems in the world is he helping to solve now?

Read Less




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