Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lisbon

Biden’s Talk of Withdrawal in Afghanistan Makes Troops’ Task Harder

In this week’s Weekly Standard, I have an editorial praising President Obama for the toughness and resolution he has shown in Afghanistan by refusing to waver from the surge. The latest sign of his willingness to hang tough was the AfPak review released last week, which suggested that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is on track. But then on Sunday, Joe Biden — a never-ending source of ill-advised comments — muddied the waters with his appearance on Meet the Press.

When asked about Afghanistan, the vice president said that July 2011 — which increasingly looks irrelevant — will result in a real drawdown of U.S. troops: “It will not be a token amount.” He then went on to say something even more damaging: “We’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Huh? Biden claimed that this is what was agreed on at the NATO summit in Lisbon last month. But he is wrong. This is what the Lisbon summit declaration actually said:

The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership in some provinces and districts is on track to begin in early 2011, following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision. Transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops. Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan. [italics added]

In other words, 2014 is not a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces; it is strictly a deadline for transitioning “full responsibility for security” to Afghan forces. Even if Afghan forces take “full responsibility,” however, there is little doubt that they will need plenty of outside support. A similar transition has already occurred in Iraq, and we still have 50,000 troops there.

The question that administration spokesmen must now answer, unfortunately, is whether Biden’s statement accurately represents the president’s views — or whether the NATO summit declaration that Obama signed is a more faithful guide to American policy. I bet it is the latter, but it is beyond frustrating that Biden has made another comment that casts doubt on American resolve just when our staying power was finally being established in the minds of the Afghan people — and in the minds of the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Doesn’t Biden realize that the best way to ensure an expeditious, “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces is by not talking about any withdrawals? The more we signal our determination, the more we talk about our willingness to stay forever if that is what it takes to crush the Taliban, the more Afghans will trust us and abandon the Taliban. And then our troops will be able to come home sooner. Whereas if Biden insists on talking about withdrawals, he makes our troops’ job harder and more likely they will have to fight longer and harder than necessary.

In this week’s Weekly Standard, I have an editorial praising President Obama for the toughness and resolution he has shown in Afghanistan by refusing to waver from the surge. The latest sign of his willingness to hang tough was the AfPak review released last week, which suggested that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is on track. But then on Sunday, Joe Biden — a never-ending source of ill-advised comments — muddied the waters with his appearance on Meet the Press.

When asked about Afghanistan, the vice president said that July 2011 — which increasingly looks irrelevant — will result in a real drawdown of U.S. troops: “It will not be a token amount.” He then went on to say something even more damaging: “We’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Huh? Biden claimed that this is what was agreed on at the NATO summit in Lisbon last month. But he is wrong. This is what the Lisbon summit declaration actually said:

The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership in some provinces and districts is on track to begin in early 2011, following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision. Transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops. Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan. [italics added]

In other words, 2014 is not a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces; it is strictly a deadline for transitioning “full responsibility for security” to Afghan forces. Even if Afghan forces take “full responsibility,” however, there is little doubt that they will need plenty of outside support. A similar transition has already occurred in Iraq, and we still have 50,000 troops there.

The question that administration spokesmen must now answer, unfortunately, is whether Biden’s statement accurately represents the president’s views — or whether the NATO summit declaration that Obama signed is a more faithful guide to American policy. I bet it is the latter, but it is beyond frustrating that Biden has made another comment that casts doubt on American resolve just when our staying power was finally being established in the minds of the Afghan people — and in the minds of the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Doesn’t Biden realize that the best way to ensure an expeditious, “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces is by not talking about any withdrawals? The more we signal our determination, the more we talk about our willingness to stay forever if that is what it takes to crush the Taliban, the more Afghans will trust us and abandon the Taliban. And then our troops will be able to come home sooner. Whereas if Biden insists on talking about withdrawals, he makes our troops’ job harder and more likely they will have to fight longer and harder than necessary.

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NATO Considering Peacekeeping Force in Middle East

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

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Obama’s Anemic Public Diplomacy

The latest Quinnipiac poll reports:

American voters say 50 – 44 percent that the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan, the first time the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds more voters opposed to the war.  This compares to a September 9 survey in which voters said 49 – 41 percent that the U.S. was doing the right thing in Afghanistan. … Support for President Barack Obama’s policy in Afghanistan turns the political landscape upside down. Democrats say 62 – 33 percent the United States should not be there, even though they strongly support President Obama heavily on virtually all other issues. Republicans, who oppose Obama on most issues, back the war 64 – 31 percent. Independent voters say 54 – 40 percent the United States should not be in Afghanistan. Military families are divided, as 49 percent believe the U.S. is doing the right thing in Afghanistan while 47 percent say the U.S. should not be involved.

There are two issues here. First, given the example the Democrats set during the Iraq war, it is remarkable that Republicans have stuck to their principles and continued support for that war. It’s not a theme that the mainstream media have dwelled on all that much — OK, they’ve entirely ignored it. But when Obama and the White House start whining about GOP partisanship and its being the party of “no,” someone should remind them that on one of the most controversial aspects of Obama’s agenda, the GOP has hung tight.

The second issue is that Obama’s lack of public diplomacy and mixed messaging on our timeline for withdrawal have allowed public support for the war to slide. He’s not made the case forcefully and consistently for why we are there and why we must prevail. At the FPI conference this week, administration figures suggested that at the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon, Obama would issue a forceful statement on the war effort. This is good, but it shouldn’t be a single declaration. Obama seems to think he has a “communications” problem. While that may be a lame excuse for an election wipeout, it’s an accurate indictment of his war effort. He should commit to remedying that deficiency.

The latest Quinnipiac poll reports:

American voters say 50 – 44 percent that the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan, the first time the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds more voters opposed to the war.  This compares to a September 9 survey in which voters said 49 – 41 percent that the U.S. was doing the right thing in Afghanistan. … Support for President Barack Obama’s policy in Afghanistan turns the political landscape upside down. Democrats say 62 – 33 percent the United States should not be there, even though they strongly support President Obama heavily on virtually all other issues. Republicans, who oppose Obama on most issues, back the war 64 – 31 percent. Independent voters say 54 – 40 percent the United States should not be in Afghanistan. Military families are divided, as 49 percent believe the U.S. is doing the right thing in Afghanistan while 47 percent say the U.S. should not be involved.

There are two issues here. First, given the example the Democrats set during the Iraq war, it is remarkable that Republicans have stuck to their principles and continued support for that war. It’s not a theme that the mainstream media have dwelled on all that much — OK, they’ve entirely ignored it. But when Obama and the White House start whining about GOP partisanship and its being the party of “no,” someone should remind them that on one of the most controversial aspects of Obama’s agenda, the GOP has hung tight.

The second issue is that Obama’s lack of public diplomacy and mixed messaging on our timeline for withdrawal have allowed public support for the war to slide. He’s not made the case forcefully and consistently for why we are there and why we must prevail. At the FPI conference this week, administration figures suggested that at the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon, Obama would issue a forceful statement on the war effort. This is good, but it shouldn’t be a single declaration. Obama seems to think he has a “communications” problem. While that may be a lame excuse for an election wipeout, it’s an accurate indictment of his war effort. He should commit to remedying that deficiency.

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Plus Ça Change

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

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NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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Afghanistan: Moscow to the Rescue

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella. Read More

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella.

A quiet announcement by NATO’s secretary-general on Monday indicates that the NATO nations, approaching this unpleasant reality head-on, have decided to do what they can to make a partnership out of the necessity of Russian involvement. The UK Independent reports that NATO (with full U.S. participation) is inviting Russia into Afghanistan in a military role. The acceptance from the Russians comes with strings, of course; as the Independent puts it, “Moscow is seeking what it terms as more cooperation from NATO.” Not defining this cooperative quid pro quo in advance would seem to indicate a colossal breakdown in NATO’s bargaining skills; what we can be sure of is that the price of Russian involvement will be political — and high.

With this agreement, Russia positions itself as a nexus of independent influence in the Afghan settlement: a new option for Pakistan — and Iran and India — to play Russia off against the U.S. These factors combine to produce a bottom line that is quickly outracing the American people’s lagging idea of our role Afghanistan. We have much the largest military commitment there, but we are dealing away the latitude to define victory and decide what the strategy will be.

No political leader ever announces he is doing this. Don’t expect Obama to be explicit about it. NATO has been working on the Russian accord without fanfare and will probably announce it as something of an afterthought in Lisbon, where the public emphasis is expected to be on missile-defense cooperation with Moscow. But this will be a decisive turn in the Afghan war. Assuming we proceed with this agreement, the war will, in fact, no longer be ours to wage as we see fit. Whatever his precise intentions, Obama probably couldn’t have found a better way to induce the war’s American supporters to want to get out of it on his timetable.

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British Backbone

The feckless response of the British government to the barbaric treatment of one of its citizens, Gillian Gibbons—imprisoned by the Sudanese government for allowing her classroom of seven-year-olds to name a stuffed animal “Muhammed”—is not the type of “diplomacy” that ought become a matter of course when dealing with religious fascists and tyrants. To its credit, the British government is acting quite differently—under great pressure from its craven, European allies—in response to the scheduled appearance of Robert Mugabe at an upcoming European/African Union summit in Lisbon which starts this Saturday.

Mrs. Gibbons has become a literal hostage of the Sudanese regime; her very life is in the hands of Islamist tyrants. Likewise the European Union has become, (wittingly, to its shame) the hostage of the African Union, many of whose member states—namely those belonging to the Southern African Development Community regional group—are making their presence at this weekend’s conference conditional upon Mugabe’s presence. Not only are SADC’s members threatening to boycott the conference if Mugabe is not invited, they are simultaneously demanding that the Zimbabwe crisis itself not be on the conference agenda. The Executive Secretary of SADC stated that “SADC will not go to Lisbon to discuss Zimbabwe because the summit is not about Zimbabwe, but about relations between the EU and Africa,” he said. Mugabe has duly thanked the members of SADC, telling a crowd in Harare last week, “I want to express our gratitude to our fellow members of SADC for their support of Zimbabwe in its assertion to defend its sovereignty against the onslaught that has come from Britain and its allies.”

“Relations between the EU and Africa,” however, have everything to do with Zimbabwe. Considering the billions of dollars in aid money that Western governments give annually to African ones, the governance of African states is certainly pertinent to the nations forking over so much dough, indeed, “governance and human rights” are one of 5 topics that are on the conference agenda. So if the SADC states see fit to prop up, exalt, and equip a murderous dictator whose economic policies have gravely affected European businesses and who has violated the human rights of thousands of British subjects–to say nothing of those policies which have led to the deaths of untold thousands of Mugabe’s own people and created one of the largest refugee crises in the world–it’s difficult to see how this situation does not fit under the purview of the European Union’s relations with its African allies.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed some spine and stated that he would not attend the summit if Mugabe were to be there. Mugabe has confirmed his attendance for the weekend, and the European Union—by indulging the petty whims of African states—has demonstrated its favoritism for a tyrant over the leader of one of the world’s great democracies. Thus far, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek, is the only other European leader to follow Brown’s example. This is an encouraging sign, however minor, that at least some Europeans understand the importance of not caving into the demands of tyrants, or their enablers.

Update: Gibbons has been pardoned. Three cheers for that.

The feckless response of the British government to the barbaric treatment of one of its citizens, Gillian Gibbons—imprisoned by the Sudanese government for allowing her classroom of seven-year-olds to name a stuffed animal “Muhammed”—is not the type of “diplomacy” that ought become a matter of course when dealing with religious fascists and tyrants. To its credit, the British government is acting quite differently—under great pressure from its craven, European allies—in response to the scheduled appearance of Robert Mugabe at an upcoming European/African Union summit in Lisbon which starts this Saturday.

Mrs. Gibbons has become a literal hostage of the Sudanese regime; her very life is in the hands of Islamist tyrants. Likewise the European Union has become, (wittingly, to its shame) the hostage of the African Union, many of whose member states—namely those belonging to the Southern African Development Community regional group—are making their presence at this weekend’s conference conditional upon Mugabe’s presence. Not only are SADC’s members threatening to boycott the conference if Mugabe is not invited, they are simultaneously demanding that the Zimbabwe crisis itself not be on the conference agenda. The Executive Secretary of SADC stated that “SADC will not go to Lisbon to discuss Zimbabwe because the summit is not about Zimbabwe, but about relations between the EU and Africa,” he said. Mugabe has duly thanked the members of SADC, telling a crowd in Harare last week, “I want to express our gratitude to our fellow members of SADC for their support of Zimbabwe in its assertion to defend its sovereignty against the onslaught that has come from Britain and its allies.”

“Relations between the EU and Africa,” however, have everything to do with Zimbabwe. Considering the billions of dollars in aid money that Western governments give annually to African ones, the governance of African states is certainly pertinent to the nations forking over so much dough, indeed, “governance and human rights” are one of 5 topics that are on the conference agenda. So if the SADC states see fit to prop up, exalt, and equip a murderous dictator whose economic policies have gravely affected European businesses and who has violated the human rights of thousands of British subjects–to say nothing of those policies which have led to the deaths of untold thousands of Mugabe’s own people and created one of the largest refugee crises in the world–it’s difficult to see how this situation does not fit under the purview of the European Union’s relations with its African allies.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed some spine and stated that he would not attend the summit if Mugabe were to be there. Mugabe has confirmed his attendance for the weekend, and the European Union—by indulging the petty whims of African states—has demonstrated its favoritism for a tyrant over the leader of one of the world’s great democracies. Thus far, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek, is the only other European leader to follow Brown’s example. This is an encouraging sign, however minor, that at least some Europeans understand the importance of not caving into the demands of tyrants, or their enablers.

Update: Gibbons has been pardoned. Three cheers for that.

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False Hopes

In Zimbabwe, presidential and parliamentary elections have been scheduled for March of 2008. The decision to hold these elections—brokered after a series of negotiations held under the auspices of South African president Thabo Mbeki—has been hailed by none other than the regime of Robert Mugabe itself. What, then, is to make us believe that the outcome of next March’s balloting will prove any different than the results of past elections in 2000, 2002, and 2005, all of which were rigged? Indeed, there have been several disturbing developments over the past several weeks which indicate that neither Mugabe nor (more worryingly) Mbeki are serious about free and fair elections.

According to opposition leaders, since the end of the South African-brokered negotiations, the Zimbabwean government has turned down 103 applications for political rallies (the fact that political parties must register with the government before holding a rally is itself indicative of the nature of the Mugabe regime) and it is still meting out violence against democracy activists. Yesterday, the government reiterated its support for stringent media laws which make it practically impossible for foreigners to own television or radio stations (effectively banning the foreign television and radio media from operating freely in the country). This will make it easier for the regime to cover its inevitable election abuses come next year.

And to add insult to injury, after having declared victory over British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a diplomatic row over his attendance at an upcoming European Union-African Union summit in Lisbon, Mugabe’s mouthpieces are now demanding that the E.U. tell Brown to “shut up” about Mugabe’s gross abuses of human rights because “Gordon Brown is not even qualified to talk to us on human rights and as you can see he failed his own country’s internal democracy in Britain.” This is in reference to Brown’s decision not to call an immediate election to ratify his mandate as an unelected prime minister who assumed power following the resignation of his predecessor. An absurd allegation, of course, but one that apparently seems to convince Mugabe’s fellow African leaders.

Amidst all of these recent developments, how can anyone honestly believe that next year’s elections will be free and fair?

In Zimbabwe, presidential and parliamentary elections have been scheduled for March of 2008. The decision to hold these elections—brokered after a series of negotiations held under the auspices of South African president Thabo Mbeki—has been hailed by none other than the regime of Robert Mugabe itself. What, then, is to make us believe that the outcome of next March’s balloting will prove any different than the results of past elections in 2000, 2002, and 2005, all of which were rigged? Indeed, there have been several disturbing developments over the past several weeks which indicate that neither Mugabe nor (more worryingly) Mbeki are serious about free and fair elections.

According to opposition leaders, since the end of the South African-brokered negotiations, the Zimbabwean government has turned down 103 applications for political rallies (the fact that political parties must register with the government before holding a rally is itself indicative of the nature of the Mugabe regime) and it is still meting out violence against democracy activists. Yesterday, the government reiterated its support for stringent media laws which make it practically impossible for foreigners to own television or radio stations (effectively banning the foreign television and radio media from operating freely in the country). This will make it easier for the regime to cover its inevitable election abuses come next year.

And to add insult to injury, after having declared victory over British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a diplomatic row over his attendance at an upcoming European Union-African Union summit in Lisbon, Mugabe’s mouthpieces are now demanding that the E.U. tell Brown to “shut up” about Mugabe’s gross abuses of human rights because “Gordon Brown is not even qualified to talk to us on human rights and as you can see he failed his own country’s internal democracy in Britain.” This is in reference to Brown’s decision not to call an immediate election to ratify his mandate as an unelected prime minister who assumed power following the resignation of his predecessor. An absurd allegation, of course, but one that apparently seems to convince Mugabe’s fellow African leaders.

Amidst all of these recent developments, how can anyone honestly believe that next year’s elections will be free and fair?

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Victory for a Dictator

What is the point of putting sanctions on a dictator if you refuse to enforce them? This was the question that the world community faced in its dealings with Saddam Hussein, who, over a twelve-year period, violated sixteen Chapter VII Security Council resolutions with impunity. The question has come up again in the person of Robert Mugabe. In 2002, the European Union placed a travel ban on the Zimbabwean dictator and his top associates, which it has repeatedly allowed them to break. This December, a European Union-African Union summit is planned for Lisbon, Portugal, and at the insistence of African governments, the Portuguese will be inviting Mugabe. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, has issued an ultimatum that he would not attend the conference were Mugabe seated across the table. Now, the Guardian reports:

“It’s the working assumption that Mugabe will be coming if invited by the Portuguese as expected,” said a European Commission official familiar with the preparations for the first Europe-Africa summit in seven years.

It appears that Brown will not be in attendance, then, and that the European and African Unions have chosen a dictator over a democrat.

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What is the point of putting sanctions on a dictator if you refuse to enforce them? This was the question that the world community faced in its dealings with Saddam Hussein, who, over a twelve-year period, violated sixteen Chapter VII Security Council resolutions with impunity. The question has come up again in the person of Robert Mugabe. In 2002, the European Union placed a travel ban on the Zimbabwean dictator and his top associates, which it has repeatedly allowed them to break. This December, a European Union-African Union summit is planned for Lisbon, Portugal, and at the insistence of African governments, the Portuguese will be inviting Mugabe. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, has issued an ultimatum that he would not attend the conference were Mugabe seated across the table. Now, the Guardian reports:

“It’s the working assumption that Mugabe will be coming if invited by the Portuguese as expected,” said a European Commission official familiar with the preparations for the first Europe-Africa summit in seven years.

It appears that Brown will not be in attendance, then, and that the European and African Unions have chosen a dictator over a democrat.

This is not good news for Zimbabwe’s democrats, either, who have been working tirelessly, under very difficult conditions, to discredit Mugabe internationally. One would not imagine this to be a difficult task, considering the fact that the man is responsible for the deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians and is slowly starving his own people to death. The EU invitation will send a message to other African leaders: not only are their governments able to hold European diplomacy hostage, but the Europeans respect Mugabe. According to the Guardian, “EU diplomats hope that Mugabe will come under ‘peer pressure’ from fellow African leaders.” As long as the international community acts like a high school guidance counselor when dealing with African politics, it should expect little to get done.

On the bright side, now that Mugabe is set to come to Europe, perhaps the European Union is deftly executing the plan I proposed earlier this week. One can hope.

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Arrest Mugabe

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set African leaders astir with his ultimatum concerning an upcoming European Union/African Union conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Brown has laid down a simple condition for his attendance at the December conference: that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe not attend. “We should not sit down at the same table as President Mugabe,” Brown told the Labour Party conference last week. He elaborated

We will play our part also in helping all those people who want to work together to make sure there is social and economic justice, and then political justice, also for the Zimbabwean people. We are ready to play our part in the reconstruction and in the building of a democracy…. There must be democracy restored to Zimbabwe.

Many of Tony Blair’s friends in America were unsure of his successor’s commitment to global freedom, but Brown’s principled and uncompromising stand on the Mugabe tyranny should assuage most, if not all, of those doubts.

African leaders, who have done nothing of substance to assist Mugabe’s exit from power (and have actually aided him whenever the democratic opposition to his rule came close to weakening his regime) are angry at Mr. Brown’s provocation. It is expected that if the EU follows the British Prime Minister’s suggestion and retracts Mugabe’s invitation, the entire summit will collapse due to African states’ boycotting the event. European diplomats, unwilling to take any step that would cause offense or discomfort to dictators, are already busying themselves condemning Mr. Brown to the media.

I have a compromise solution to this seemingly intractable quandary. Brown should at once rescind his opposition to Mugabe’s attendance at the Lisbon summit, and instead express his giddy anticipation at greeting the Zimbabwean president in Portugual come December. The EU should officially waive the travel ban it placed on Mugabe in 2002 and ceremoniously grant him a visa. When Mugabe steps off his plane (AirZimbabwe’s only international jet, which Mugabe regularly commandeers on a whim, throwing the national carrier’s schedule into chaos), he will be greeted by a Hague-appointed prosecutor serving him an indictment for crimes against humanity. The Portuguese police will then take him promptly into custody. I hope this is an idea Brown is already contemplating.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set African leaders astir with his ultimatum concerning an upcoming European Union/African Union conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Brown has laid down a simple condition for his attendance at the December conference: that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe not attend. “We should not sit down at the same table as President Mugabe,” Brown told the Labour Party conference last week. He elaborated

We will play our part also in helping all those people who want to work together to make sure there is social and economic justice, and then political justice, also for the Zimbabwean people. We are ready to play our part in the reconstruction and in the building of a democracy…. There must be democracy restored to Zimbabwe.

Many of Tony Blair’s friends in America were unsure of his successor’s commitment to global freedom, but Brown’s principled and uncompromising stand on the Mugabe tyranny should assuage most, if not all, of those doubts.

African leaders, who have done nothing of substance to assist Mugabe’s exit from power (and have actually aided him whenever the democratic opposition to his rule came close to weakening his regime) are angry at Mr. Brown’s provocation. It is expected that if the EU follows the British Prime Minister’s suggestion and retracts Mugabe’s invitation, the entire summit will collapse due to African states’ boycotting the event. European diplomats, unwilling to take any step that would cause offense or discomfort to dictators, are already busying themselves condemning Mr. Brown to the media.

I have a compromise solution to this seemingly intractable quandary. Brown should at once rescind his opposition to Mugabe’s attendance at the Lisbon summit, and instead express his giddy anticipation at greeting the Zimbabwean president in Portugual come December. The EU should officially waive the travel ban it placed on Mugabe in 2002 and ceremoniously grant him a visa. When Mugabe steps off his plane (AirZimbabwe’s only international jet, which Mugabe regularly commandeers on a whim, throwing the national carrier’s schedule into chaos), he will be greeted by a Hague-appointed prosecutor serving him an indictment for crimes against humanity. The Portuguese police will then take him promptly into custody. I hope this is an idea Brown is already contemplating.

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Is It Any Wonder?

The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

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The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

The new list was created by the New7Wonders Foundation, whose own website proclaims—and without apparent irony—that it “was created in 2001 by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber.” Weber has certainly been enterprising. Rather than forming a panel of experts, he allowed the public to vote for its favorite monuments. It is no surprise, then, that countries with large populations (China, Brazil, and India) dominate the list, and that monuments without constituencies (one thinks of the Stone Heads of Easter Island) do not figure. How Weber tabulated the votes, or what measures he took to prevent multiple voting, is unclear. The Vatican has speculated, according to the (London) Times, about the systematic exclusion of Christian monuments. As the Times reported,

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, who heads the Vatican’s pontifical commission for culture and archeology, said that the exclusion of Christian works of art such as Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel was “surprising, inexplicable, even suspicious.”

One can no more quarrel with such a list than with television ratings. Still, as a thought exercise, one might speculate as to how a contemporary list of wonders might be drawn up—one not dependent on the erratic wisdom of the internet electorate. For one thing, one might turn for guidance to the original Seven Wonders. Several were noteworthy for their bold engineering, such as the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes, which showed their cultures building to the limits of their structural acumen. A contemporary list might recognize structures of similar engineering audacity. Three obvious candidates would be the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France. One might also note that landscape art was represented by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Would it be too chauvinistic to suggest Yosemite National Park as a wonder, one shaped and organized by human intervention?

Whether or not the Vatican is correct about bias, the list certainly ignores one of the wonders of western civilization, the poetic shaping of interior space. Weber’s list of wonders consists of photogenic exteriors—which look good on computer screens, unlike architectural interiors, which need to be experienced. The organized spatial poetry achieved in such buildings as Hagia Sophia, Istanbul; St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome; and Cologne Cathedral is indeed a wonder, and one or more of these monuments certainly belong on such a list. After all, one of the principal reasons for having such a list is educational.

In the end, the new Seven Wonders of the World have less to do with Herodotus than with David Wallechinsky, whose bestselling Book of Lists (1977) ranked the “worst places to hitchhike” or “people suspected of being Jack the Ripper.” Weber’s new list is at best a bit of harmless conversation fodder—although nowhere near as diverting as Wallechinsky’s “famous people who died during sex.”

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