Commentary Magazine


Topic: NATO

What Would Scottish Independence Mean for NATO?

In just over a year, Scotland will hold a referendum on independence from Great Britain. At issue is the emotional desire of many Scots for independence versus the realism of other Scots that Scotland gets more financially from the United Kingdom than it contributes: Most paved roads in rural Scotland are a symbol of British largesse that many Scots ignore or forget. Some Scots counter this argument by noting that they stand to gain more in assistance from the European Union if they have full independence than if they are merely part of Great Britain.

Another aspect of devolution could have profound impact on the British navy: Most British submarine bases are in Scotland. This has been discussed in some British papers. Here is an article from The Guardian, for example:

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In just over a year, Scotland will hold a referendum on independence from Great Britain. At issue is the emotional desire of many Scots for independence versus the realism of other Scots that Scotland gets more financially from the United Kingdom than it contributes: Most paved roads in rural Scotland are a symbol of British largesse that many Scots ignore or forget. Some Scots counter this argument by noting that they stand to gain more in assistance from the European Union if they have full independence than if they are merely part of Great Britain.

Another aspect of devolution could have profound impact on the British navy: Most British submarine bases are in Scotland. This has been discussed in some British papers. Here is an article from The Guardian, for example:

The British government is examining plans to designate the Scottish military base that houses the Trident nuclear deterrent as sovereign United Kingdom territory if the people of Scotland vote for independence in next year’s referendum. In a move that sparked an angry reaction from the SNP, which vowed to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons as quickly as possible after a yes vote, the government is looking at ensuring that the Faslane base on Gare Loch in Argyll and Bute could have the same status as the British sovereign military bases in Cyprus. The move would be designed to ensure that the Trident fleet would continue to have access to the open seas via the Firth of Clyde. Under Britain’s “continuous at sea deterrent”, at least one Vanguard submarine armed with 16 Trident nuclear missiles is on patrol at sea at any one time.

If the British military decides to keep the bases as sovereign territory, there is not much the Scots will be able to do about it, but the notion of a diplomatic fight between independent countries over British nuclear weapons and military facilities will quickly sour other aspects of the British-Scottish relationship and could both invite unwelcome diplomatic attention from other European quarters and also raise questions about the many shipyards upon which British shipping depends both for new ships and refurbishments of existing ships.

As President Obama and Defense Secretary Hagel increasingly look to share the burdens of defense, it is important to recognize that the capabilities of some of our staunchest partners in NATO are, at best, uncertain. What happens in Scotland may not be the stuff of headlines right now, but independence and partition within NATO countries—perhaps Turkey will be next should the Kurds there achieve their national desires—will have ramifications far beyond their borders.

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Germany Again Seeks to Cheat on Iran Sanctions

Germany has certainly been among Europe’s weakest links when it comes to upholding sanctions against Iran. While the White House continues to grant waivers to Germany, German companies have attended trade and investment fairs in Iran. The German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce has also helped shepherd German companies through the process of investing in Iran’s energy sector, never mind the sanctions regime. Now it seems the German government is at it again. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

Under the patronage of German Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Federal Minister of Economics Philipp Rösler, on 10 July 2013 a conference will be held with the title “Energy Security – How to Feed and Secure the Global Demand.” Among the speakers are Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi, a General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards… According to a press release on the conference “high level policy maker” will discuss “political developments in producing countries” and “geostrategic implications of changing global energy supply routes.” However, the EU imposed sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum is as an entity on the EU sanctions list.

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Germany has certainly been among Europe’s weakest links when it comes to upholding sanctions against Iran. While the White House continues to grant waivers to Germany, German companies have attended trade and investment fairs in Iran. The German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce has also helped shepherd German companies through the process of investing in Iran’s energy sector, never mind the sanctions regime. Now it seems the German government is at it again. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

Under the patronage of German Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Federal Minister of Economics Philipp Rösler, on 10 July 2013 a conference will be held with the title “Energy Security – How to Feed and Secure the Global Demand.” Among the speakers are Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi, a General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards… According to a press release on the conference “high level policy maker” will discuss “political developments in producing countries” and “geostrategic implications of changing global energy supply routes.” However, the EU imposed sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum is as an entity on the EU sanctions list.

Alas, it seems that the erosion of American credibility has occurred not only among U.S. adversaries but also with regard to U.S. allies. What to do? Germany wants its defense minister to take the helm of NATO. If the Obama administration wanted to be taken seriously, it would make German seriousness regarding one of the greatest collective security threats the West faces a condition of signing off on any such appointment. Alas, it seems, Obama’s strategy appears to assuage Berlin by undermining U.S. credibility even further.

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Turkey Betrays NATO Again

Two years ago, I blogged here about how Turkey had held secret air force war games with China, much to the surprise of both the Pentagon and NATO. The cooperation with China was especially unnerving considering the access to NATO secrets and U.S. technology that Turkey had and which it wanted. Now it seems Turkey is at it again. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Turkey’s western allies look puzzled by a looming decision by Ankara to select Chinese long-range anti-missile and air defense systems which they think cannot be integrated into the NATO-sponsored early warning architecture currently deployed on Turkish soil. “That would certainly leave many of us speechless,” said one senior diplomat from a NATO country. “Turkey has every right to choose its own air defense system but we do not quite understand the logic of opting for a Chinese system with no interoperability with the existing [NATO] assets.” A NATO ally defense attaché in Ankara said that deploying a Chinese air defense system to protect Turkish airspace could have political repercussions. “Questioning Turkey’s geopolitical trajectory would then be legitimate,” he said.

Indeed. Then, again, Turkey’s leadership has been changing Turkey’s geopolitical trajectory for quite some time.

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Two years ago, I blogged here about how Turkey had held secret air force war games with China, much to the surprise of both the Pentagon and NATO. The cooperation with China was especially unnerving considering the access to NATO secrets and U.S. technology that Turkey had and which it wanted. Now it seems Turkey is at it again. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Turkey’s western allies look puzzled by a looming decision by Ankara to select Chinese long-range anti-missile and air defense systems which they think cannot be integrated into the NATO-sponsored early warning architecture currently deployed on Turkish soil. “That would certainly leave many of us speechless,” said one senior diplomat from a NATO country. “Turkey has every right to choose its own air defense system but we do not quite understand the logic of opting for a Chinese system with no interoperability with the existing [NATO] assets.” A NATO ally defense attaché in Ankara said that deploying a Chinese air defense system to protect Turkish airspace could have political repercussions. “Questioning Turkey’s geopolitical trajectory would then be legitimate,” he said.

Indeed. Then, again, Turkey’s leadership has been changing Turkey’s geopolitical trajectory for quite some time.

Turkey’s decision to become a “Dialogue Partner” with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was as blatant a hint as could come. If the European Union is a club of democracies, then the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a club for one-party, strongman dictatorships like Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran, as an observer. Unfortunately, as the tide has turned in Turkey, it looks increasingly like Ankara belongs in the latter camp, not in the former. Let us hope that neither the Pentagon nor NATO allows Turkey to do significant damage as it reorients itself to the autocratic east. Here, Congress could have much more of a role, if it requires significant Pentagon reporting to explore the damage the Turkish leadership could do should it leak new technologies to the Chinese.

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Israeli Strike Shows Potential for U.S.-Led Action in Syria

Details about the Israeli air strike in Syria last week remain elusive, with various reports describing an attack on both a Syrian military research center on chemical and biological weapons and a convoy carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that both were targeted by the Israeli Air Force. Either way the Israelis are doing a good turn, not only for themselves but also for the U.S. and other regional allies by trying to limit the fall-out from the Syrian civil war. Would that we were doing as much.

The ease with which the Israeli Air Force penetrated Syrian air space–which replicates a similar Israeli bombing mission in 2007 to take out a Syrian nuclear reactor–shows that it would not be all that hard for the U.S., acting with NATO and Arab allies, to likewise intervene to establish a no-fly zone. The U.S. military has been opposed to such a mission, for understandable reasons, because it could bring about considerable complications and because resources are already being strained by budget cuts. But from a military standpoint there is little doubt that a no-fly zone could be established relatively quickly and easily–the Syrian air defenses, which have raised such alarms in Washington, are not all that formidable after all when attacked by a U.S.-equipped air force.

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Details about the Israeli air strike in Syria last week remain elusive, with various reports describing an attack on both a Syrian military research center on chemical and biological weapons and a convoy carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that both were targeted by the Israeli Air Force. Either way the Israelis are doing a good turn, not only for themselves but also for the U.S. and other regional allies by trying to limit the fall-out from the Syrian civil war. Would that we were doing as much.

The ease with which the Israeli Air Force penetrated Syrian air space–which replicates a similar Israeli bombing mission in 2007 to take out a Syrian nuclear reactor–shows that it would not be all that hard for the U.S., acting with NATO and Arab allies, to likewise intervene to establish a no-fly zone. The U.S. military has been opposed to such a mission, for understandable reasons, because it could bring about considerable complications and because resources are already being strained by budget cuts. But from a military standpoint there is little doubt that a no-fly zone could be established relatively quickly and easily–the Syrian air defenses, which have raised such alarms in Washington, are not all that formidable after all when attacked by a U.S.-equipped air force.

And the Israelis did not even bother to take out the missile-defense system; they probably used electronic warfare to jam the system for a period to allow their aircraft to get in and out. The U.S. and our allies, if we were to undertake a campaign in support of the rebels, would take out the entire air-defense network, as they previously took out similar networks in Iraq and Libya. That would make follow-on sorties as close to risk-free from the American standpoint as anything gets in the inherently risky and dangerous realm of warfare.

Yet, despite the military feasibility of such a project and the strategic imperative of ousting Assad to end his nation’s suffering and deal a blow to his Iranian backers, there is basically no chance that such an operation will take place. A no-fly zone would require American leadership and there is no sign of such leadership in the second Obama administration, which has lost the most forceful advocates for a strong American role in the world: Secretaries Gates and Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus. The Syrians are on their own, it seems, and the conflict shows no sign of burning out anytime soon.

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Strategy, Not Politics, Should Dictate Troop Levels

The press continues to be full of leaks about the administration’s troop drawdown plans in Afghanistan. The latest is this article in the Wall Street Journal, which reports that, at the White House’s insistence, the Pentagon has offered troop options post-2014 lower than those favored by General John Allen, the commander on the ground. His options call for between 6,000 and 15,000 troops (some other accounts have suggested his top-end figure is 20,000). The new set of options: 3,000, 6,000, or 9,000 troops.

As the Journal notes, this is part of a continuing decrease in the size of forces envisioned for Afghanistan: “In late 2010, some senior administration and defense officials told NATO allies that the U.S. may need to keep at least 40,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, when the current NATO mission concludes. A year later, officials suggested troop levels could be closer to 20,000. As recently as November, Gen. Allen spoke privately with Pentagon chiefs about the need for 15,000 troops from the U.S. alone.” But now the administration seems to be leaning toward cutting the current force by more than half this year (from 66,000 to 30,000 or so) and leaving perhaps 6,000 or even fewer troops post-2014. And as U.S. troop number decreases, so do those of our NATO allies: nobody is going to do more than we are.

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The press continues to be full of leaks about the administration’s troop drawdown plans in Afghanistan. The latest is this article in the Wall Street Journal, which reports that, at the White House’s insistence, the Pentagon has offered troop options post-2014 lower than those favored by General John Allen, the commander on the ground. His options call for between 6,000 and 15,000 troops (some other accounts have suggested his top-end figure is 20,000). The new set of options: 3,000, 6,000, or 9,000 troops.

As the Journal notes, this is part of a continuing decrease in the size of forces envisioned for Afghanistan: “In late 2010, some senior administration and defense officials told NATO allies that the U.S. may need to keep at least 40,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, when the current NATO mission concludes. A year later, officials suggested troop levels could be closer to 20,000. As recently as November, Gen. Allen spoke privately with Pentagon chiefs about the need for 15,000 troops from the U.S. alone.” But now the administration seems to be leaning toward cutting the current force by more than half this year (from 66,000 to 30,000 or so) and leaving perhaps 6,000 or even fewer troops post-2014. And as U.S. troop number decreases, so do those of our NATO allies: nobody is going to do more than we are.

Why the decrease? If you believe administration spokesmen, it’s because the Afghan National Security Forces are performing far better than expected and the security situation is far better than envisioned. If that were indeed the case, I, too, would favor keeping substantially fewer troops: drawdowns should be conditions-based. But conditions on the ground are not rosy enough to permit massive troop decreases.

True, there have been some encouraging trends–according to official NATO figures, enemy-initiated attacks fell 7 percent during the January-November 2012 period compared with the same months in 2011. But enemy attacks were rising as recently as May and June and overall attack levels are still higher today than they were when the surge began in 2009.

While Taliban fighters have been routed out of many strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces, they have proven resilient thanks to their sanctuaries in Pakistan, and similar progress has not been seen in the eastern part of the country. There are still Haqqani sanctuaries located only an hour’s drive from Kabul–and that is with 66,000 U.S. troops still in the country.

While the ANSF are more capable than before, their ability to hold onto, and expand, recent gains without substantial support is highly questionable. The Defense Department’s own “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” notes that the ANSF still have considerable deficiencies in areas such as logistics, planning, and air support that will require coalition backstopping for a long time to come; Afghanistan will not even have a functioning air force until 2017 at the earliest.

In reality, the gains that have been made are extremely fragile and dependent on massive U.S. support. Pull that support and there is considerable risk of the Taliban once again extending their control to the gates of Kabul. There is, quite simply, no reason to imagine that Afghanistan could remain reasonably secure with 6,000 or fewer U.S. troops remaining post-2014.

That is why General Allen has recommended a higher troop figure. But there is a very real risk that his recommendations will be overridden not for strategic reasons but for political ones.

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U.S.-Russia Relations Keep Plummeting

Now that Moscow has expelled USAID from Russia and announced it will not renew one of the pillars of U.S.-Russia post-Soviet cooperation–the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program–the Obama administration and other disappointed actors will be looking for a silver lining.

At least the Obama administration can take solace in the fact that while Putin is thoroughly dedicated to publicly and without consequence bullying Obama in the last month of the presidential election, he isn’t only isolating the U.S. As usual, Putin reserved some of his ire for NATO as well. Reuters reports:

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Now that Moscow has expelled USAID from Russia and announced it will not renew one of the pillars of U.S.-Russia post-Soviet cooperation–the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program–the Obama administration and other disappointed actors will be looking for a silver lining.

At least the Obama administration can take solace in the fact that while Putin is thoroughly dedicated to publicly and without consequence bullying Obama in the last month of the presidential election, he isn’t only isolating the U.S. As usual, Putin reserved some of his ire for NATO as well. Reuters reports:

Russia will stop cooperating with NATO over Afghanistan after 2014 unless the alliance gets U.N. Security Council authorization for its new training mission in Afghanistan, a senior Russian diplomat said on Wednesday.

A NATO official said only that it would be “helpful” to have a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the post-2014 training mission, but stopped short of saying it was essential.

Nikolay Korchunov, Russia’s acting ambassador to NATO, did not specify what any halt to Russian cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan after 2014 would mean, but Russia will be an important transit route for NATO as it ships out billions of dollars of equipment from Afghanistan in the next few years.

This morning, the New York Times also reported that Turkish authorities forced a Syrian plane en route from Moscow to land in Ankara, and the Russians–perhaps feeling they were caught red-handed–lashed out in response. “I think that tension will now develop in the relationship between Russia and Turkey,” a Russian Foreign Ministry official told the Times.

Turkey claims there were materials on the plane that violate international regulations, but there were also passengers on the plane, leading a Russian arms export official to offer a quote that is both amusingly arrogant and ominous: “If it had been necessary to ship any military hardware or weapons to Syria, this would have been done through the established procedure rather than in an illegal way.”

Of course Russia will help a dictator murder thousands of his own people in broad daylight–but they’d never do anything illegal.

The question lingers, however: What does Putin want from Obama? The answer is, the last concession remaining: the plans for a missile shield in Europe. Yet regardless of Obama’s decision on that front, Putin’s habit has been to simply pocket concessions and then renegotiate. Which means despite the administration’s attempts to placate Putin, the U.S.-Russia relationship, at a low point during the first Obama term and in many ways since the fall of the Soviet empire, will remain where it is. The new low will become the new normal.

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Will Obama Mourn Georgian Ally’s Defeat?

I share the two cheers Max seems to offer for the slight forward march of democracy, especially in Georgia, where longtime American ally Mikheil Saakashvili has yet again proven his detractors in the global left wrong and his supporters right. Saakashvili’s behavior was exemplary to the point of uniting in thought and praise Max and the Economist, and I join them. The Economist, long a skeptic of Vladimir Putin’s intentions and supporter of post-Soviet demokratizatsiya, writes:

Peaceful political and constitutional change is routine in much of Europe. But it is rare (the Baltic states aside) in the old Soviet Union. By conceding, Mr Saakashvili has admirably secured his reformist legacy, demolishing claims that his rule was Putinesque in its heavy-handedness. Westerners who trusted him can feel vindicated. For his part Mr Ivanishvili stoked suspicions about his own judgment when he demanded that Mr Saakashvili step down immediately (he quickly backtracked). The constitutional position is clear: Mr Saakashvili has another year to go. He is ready to work with his victorious opponent, despite the deepest of disagreements. Mr Ivanishvili should reciprocate.

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I share the two cheers Max seems to offer for the slight forward march of democracy, especially in Georgia, where longtime American ally Mikheil Saakashvili has yet again proven his detractors in the global left wrong and his supporters right. Saakashvili’s behavior was exemplary to the point of uniting in thought and praise Max and the Economist, and I join them. The Economist, long a skeptic of Vladimir Putin’s intentions and supporter of post-Soviet demokratizatsiya, writes:

Peaceful political and constitutional change is routine in much of Europe. But it is rare (the Baltic states aside) in the old Soviet Union. By conceding, Mr Saakashvili has admirably secured his reformist legacy, demolishing claims that his rule was Putinesque in its heavy-handedness. Westerners who trusted him can feel vindicated. For his part Mr Ivanishvili stoked suspicions about his own judgment when he demanded that Mr Saakashvili step down immediately (he quickly backtracked). The constitutional position is clear: Mr Saakashvili has another year to go. He is ready to work with his victorious opponent, despite the deepest of disagreements. Mr Ivanishvili should reciprocate.

That is well said, and also underscores the withholding of that third cheer for Georgia, since Saakashvili has behaved far better (and more democratically) than his ascendant pro-Russian rival. But here is where I diverge slightly from Max, who writes (my emphasis): “The ability to peacefully transition authority from one party to another is crucial, and if Georgia can pull it off, that will be a boon for its nascent democracy, even if the policies advocated by the new government are not those that American policymakers would prefer.”

Those new policies may not be what Max would prefer, nor those of us who have recognized the importance of Georgia’s pro-Western leaning, from its role in the disintegration of the Soviet Union to its sending troops to Afghanistan. But I think it is wishful thinking to assume that the current administration sees it that way.

The Obama administration has shown less interest in expanding NATO–that is to say, none at all–than his predecessors. The most recent NATO conference, which we hosted here in the U.S., was a historic meeting, in that it took not a step toward the inclusion of allies who have made progress at each meeting until this one. In fact, the NATO conference was notable in that it displayed an organization that seemed to have no interest in itself.

Georgia has sent more troops to Afghanistan than some NATO members (and was apparently the highest per-capita troop contributor to the effort). But the Obama administration remains unmoved. Russia is currently occupying chunks of Georgian sovereign territory, violating the ceasefire that ended the 2008 war, which Russian leaders had been planning for about a decade and which included documented cases of anti-Georgian ethnic cleansing. The Obama administration admitted to the New York Times that it was fully aware of Russia’s violations, but that raising the issue would have imperiled the imaginary “reset” that was, at that time, still one of the administration’s prized delusions.

That border dispute was one reason Georgia held fast to its one piece of leverage over Russia: the latter’s accession to the World Trade Organization. U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul wisely made Russia’s WTO membership one of his primary goals–getting Russia to play by the same rules as the international community will bring a certain degree of accountability to Putin’s management of “Russia, Inc.” and give American businesses a boost in new markets as well. But the border dispute remains, even after McFaul strong-armed Georgia into letting go. Both Russia and the U.S. got what they wanted; Saakashvili got an insincere pat on the back.

Because the “reset” was based mostly on Western rhetoric toward Russia, Saakashvili’s bombast proved an annoyance to the administration. So when Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose party bested Saakashvili’s in the recent parliamentary elections, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to outline his vision for the country he hoped to lead, he knew exactly how to make his pitch. “If elected, my Georgian Dream coalition will drop Cold War rhetoric and do a better job of defusing the real causes of the explosive situation in our region,” he wrote, echoing the hollow nonsense of the Obama administration’s persistent complaints that criticism of Putin is evidence of a mind “still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”

A better relationship with Russia seems to be exactly what the Obama administration would want for Georgia, since Obama and McFaul have now gotten everything they needed from Georgia and no longer have much use for our ally. Georgia hasn’t been treated much worse than the rest of our allies by the Obama administration, but that’s still pretty terrible. In any event, I would guess the Obama administration is willing to offer all three cheers for the Georgian election.

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Allies Decry Obama’s “Empty Promises”

When Mitt Romney made his infamous remark about Russia being our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” his inartful sound bite ended up drowning out what he said next, which was an important—and much more nuanced—point. Romney noted that it has begun to matter less how dangerous we perceive nations like Iran or North Korea to be if we can’t take collective diplomatic action and put concerted pressure on them. To do that, we would need to build coalitions at multilateral organizations–something made virtually impossible by Russia’s Security Council veto and their de facto veto over NATO action they don’t like.

While this may not make Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” it does severely hamper exactly the kind of international cooperation that the Obama administration claims to prefer over (the usually straw-man) unilateral action. Put more simply: sanctions can’t prevent war if they don’t exist. I was initially puzzled by the Obama administration’s relentless mockery of Romney’s point, since he was basically defending the Obama administration’s method of international relations. But then it became clear: President Obama has no intention of using multilateral organizations to advance his foreign policy either. And so we led from behind–which means “followed”—France in Libya, a modest intervention that has been something close to a complete disaster, as we have seen in the events since—and the administration’s cover-up of those events. And now the New York Times reports from Turkey:

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When Mitt Romney made his infamous remark about Russia being our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” his inartful sound bite ended up drowning out what he said next, which was an important—and much more nuanced—point. Romney noted that it has begun to matter less how dangerous we perceive nations like Iran or North Korea to be if we can’t take collective diplomatic action and put concerted pressure on them. To do that, we would need to build coalitions at multilateral organizations–something made virtually impossible by Russia’s Security Council veto and their de facto veto over NATO action they don’t like.

While this may not make Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” it does severely hamper exactly the kind of international cooperation that the Obama administration claims to prefer over (the usually straw-man) unilateral action. Put more simply: sanctions can’t prevent war if they don’t exist. I was initially puzzled by the Obama administration’s relentless mockery of Romney’s point, since he was basically defending the Obama administration’s method of international relations. But then it became clear: President Obama has no intention of using multilateral organizations to advance his foreign policy either. And so we led from behind–which means “followed”—France in Libya, a modest intervention that has been something close to a complete disaster, as we have seen in the events since—and the administration’s cover-up of those events. And now the New York Times reports from Turkey:

For weeks, Turkey’s leaders have faced a public backlash over their aggressive posture toward Syria, a sentiment owed partly to a feeling that Turkey may be on the right side in the fight but that it is isolated, without the backing of its Western allies, including the United States, as China, Russia and Iran have lined up forcefully behind the government of Mr. Assad. That feeling deepened after the latest crisis.

“We are now at a very critical juncture,” Melih Asik, a columnist, wrote in the centrist newspaper Milliyet. “We are not only facing Syria, but Iran, Iraq, Russia and China are behind it as well. Behind us, we have nothing but the provocative stance and empty promises of the U.S.”

The Turks also believe something needs to be done about Syria—which killed five Turkish civilians this week—but are hesitant to take too much unilateral action. What they’d really like is to see the West take its hands out of its pockets. Of course, we have a multilateral organization of democracies to do just that: NATO. What are they up to? The Times explains:

NATO held an emergency meeting on Wednesday night and condemned the attack, but it did not suggest that it would invoke the clause in its charter that would require a collective response by NATO allies to the conflagration between Syria and Turkey.

A NATO member was attacked by Syria, so NATO called an emergency meeting to shake their heads and purse their lips. What would the free world do without emergency meetings?

This is, of course, a complex situation. There are clear obstacles to any hopes of repairing frayed ties with Turkey, and those obstacles were not put up by Americans. And as Brian T. Haggerty writes today in Bloomberg, any intervention in Syria would probably mean a lot more than we might think. But Haggerty’s article—intended to explain how difficult it would be for a limited intervention by the West to defeat Bashar al-Assad and his forces—only goes to show that the fall of the house of Assad is far from inevitable, and that the rebels—whose side we claim to support—are nowhere near winning.

If the president wakes up each morning hoping to hear that the conflict in Syria has miraculously ended, he will begin each day a disappointed man. But not nearly as disappointed as the Syrian rebels and Turkish civilians who are learning the hard way that Obama’s interest in multilateral problem solving was a campaign slogan, not a strategy.

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On Afghanistan, Obama Must Speak Up

It’s been a tough few days in Afghanistan.

On September 14, the Taliban attacked Camp Bastion—a giant Anglo-American base in Helmand Province—and managed to destroy six Marine Harrier jets on the ground and to kill a Harrier squadron commander. This was a well-planned, well-executed attack that caused more than a hundred million dollars in damage.

On September 18, a suicide bomber rammed a bus near the Kabul airport, killing 12 people, mostly foreign crew members working on charter flights to support USAID and other agencies in Afghanistan.

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It’s been a tough few days in Afghanistan.

On September 14, the Taliban attacked Camp Bastion—a giant Anglo-American base in Helmand Province—and managed to destroy six Marine Harrier jets on the ground and to kill a Harrier squadron commander. This was a well-planned, well-executed attack that caused more than a hundred million dollars in damage.

On September 18, a suicide bomber rammed a bus near the Kabul airport, killing 12 people, mostly foreign crew members working on charter flights to support USAID and other agencies in Afghanistan.

And in the meantime there have been more “green on blue” attacks in which Afghan security personnel attacked coalition troops, bringing the total number of fatalities from such attacks this year to 51—a record high. As a result, the NATO command in Kabul has temporarily suspended most joint operations between American and Afghan troops, or, to be more precise, it has given regional two-star headquarters the prerogative to suspend such operations if the amount of risk incurred is judged to be unacceptable. Such operations, which are commonplace, will require a two-star general’s approval for the time being—at least until the current storm over the anti-Islam video, which has been much denounced and little watched, blows over. Advisory work at the battalion and above level will remain unaffected, and, with any luck, the temporary ban on lower-level operations can be lifted soon.

Partnering between U.S. and Afghan units, which necessarily involves sharing the hardship and danger of combat, is the single most effective way to improve the Afghans’ combat capabilities—and thus to ensure that the U.S. can draw down our troops without leading to a complete collapse of the country. If partnering is ended indefinitely, the results will be calamitous—for Afghanistan and for American interests in Afghanistan. Even a temporary halt to partnering will have an adverse impact on security, especially coming, as it does, just as commanders are completing an ill-advised drawdown ordered by President Obama to just 68,000 U.S. troops.

I don’t want to make too much (or too little) of these setbacks. There are, after all, losses and failures in all wars. The enemy, despite some setbacks in the south, remains far from defeated and is capable of audacious and professional operations. The Taliban strategy of encouraging insider attacks on coalition forces is proving particularly effective. As Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, notes, “It is a very serious threat to the campaign.”

You would think that under those circumstances it would be all the more important for Obama, the commander-in-chief, to go on television so that he can explain what is happening to the American (and Afghan) people and reassure them that his plan for Afghanistan remains on track—or else to explain what modifications in his plans he is making to deal with the present situation. If the suspension of partnered operations is only temporary, he should make that clear so that the Taliban cannot claim that they are chasing us out. If the suspension is to be more long-lasting, he must explain what impact this will have on his exit strategy.

Instead, of course, we are treated to more radio silence from the White House over this forgotten war. Little wonder that public support for the war effort continues to crater: When there is no alternative narrative to counterbalance the gloomy reports in the news, the public naturally believes that all is lost. I don’t think that’s the case, based on what I have seen during my own visits to Afghanistan. But the battle for hearts and minds on the home front is certainly being lost—or rather not contested by a White House that clearly has other priorities.

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No Need for NATO Ground Troops in Syria

In light of my recent writing on Syria, bemoaning the Obama administration’s strangely passive stance, a knowledgeable reader writes to ask:  “Would you be willing to support US/NATO/UN-backed troops on the ground in Syria?” He explains:

My big concern now is that simple aid, even with a no-fly zone in place, would be too little, too late, and we wouldn’t have enough organic C4ISR assets in country to 1) effectively leverage our assets to best effect, and 2) ensure that hostile or potentially hostile elements weren’t benefiting from our efforts at aid.  But Syria is untenable now.  It’s a failed state, with a rogue state embedded within it, every nasty element in the wider Middle East on the ground, and desperately in need of — and I use this term with some reluctance — Western intervention.

I agree with him about the need for Western intervention. I disagree, at least based on the situation so far, on the need for Western ground troops.

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In light of my recent writing on Syria, bemoaning the Obama administration’s strangely passive stance, a knowledgeable reader writes to ask:  “Would you be willing to support US/NATO/UN-backed troops on the ground in Syria?” He explains:

My big concern now is that simple aid, even with a no-fly zone in place, would be too little, too late, and we wouldn’t have enough organic C4ISR assets in country to 1) effectively leverage our assets to best effect, and 2) ensure that hostile or potentially hostile elements weren’t benefiting from our efforts at aid.  But Syria is untenable now.  It’s a failed state, with a rogue state embedded within it, every nasty element in the wider Middle East on the ground, and desperately in need of — and I use this term with some reluctance — Western intervention.

I agree with him about the need for Western intervention. I disagree, at least based on the situation so far, on the need for Western ground troops.

There is simply not the will in the U.S., or in any of our major allies, to organize the kind of ground force that would be needed to pacify such a volatile country of 20 million people–two-thirds the size of Afghanistan. Using a traditional counterinsurgency rule of thumb, which suggests you need at least one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians, would produce an estimate of 400,000 troops needed to bring peace to Syria. Simply stating the requirement is to suggest how fantastic it is to contemplate–there is no chance that the U.S. or our allies would ante up anywhere close to that number. Of course it’s possible to muddle by with less, as we have done in Iraq or Afghanistan, but there is scant chance of even sending 100,000 or 200,000 troops. And there is no point in sending a small, symbolic force, of the kind that the U.S., France, and other Western allies sent to Lebanon in 1983, following the Israeli invasion and in the midst of the Lebanese civil war. This would simply make our troops an inviting target for extremists, leading to more tragedies such as the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.

The analogy is a sobering one because the architect of the Marine barracks bombing, which killed 241 sailors and marines, was Hezbollah–and that potent terrorist organization, with ample Iranian backing, is located directly across the border in Lebanon. It could easily extend its operations into Syria to target U.S. troops, as it did already in Iraq. The last thing we want is to fight a counterinsurgency campaign against a foreign-backed organization which enjoys safe havens in a neighboring country.

Luckily, however, I do not believe there is any need for American or other Western ground troops to go anywhere near Syria beyond a small number of Special Operations Forces and intelligence operatives to coordinate with the rebels. Turkey could usefully provide some troops, not to march on Damascus, but simply to protect “safe zones” along the Turkish border where refugees could come and Syrian rebels could organize to take over the country. But the American contribution should be limited to providing intelligence and other types of support for the rebels. At most we should conduct air operations to impose a no-fly zone and to attack regime targets in cooperation with rebel forces, as we did in Libya, Afghanistan (in 2001), Kosovo, and Bosnia. That’s it. The risks of such an operation are exceedingly small–it would take only a few days to neutralize Syria’s air defense, leaving the regime helpless in the face of Western airpower. Even such an operation should be mounted only with allied cooperation, preferably to include the imprimatur of NATO and the Arab League.

Once the Assad regime falls, it is possible that there will be a need for international peacekeeping forces to help an emerging democratic regime to bring order to the country and to safeguard dangerous assets such as Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile. Even then, the U.S. should tread carefully–putting American troops on the ground is a high-risk option and one we need to avoid if at all possible. I advocated the dispatch of an international stabilization force to Libya after the fall of Qaddafi and it may make sense to send such a force to Syria after Assad’s fall, but the U.S. should not take the lead on ground forces, because our troops are such an inviting target for terrorists. We could help as part of a multinational coalition with the backing of the UN, NATO and the Arab League but we should do nothing to convey the impression of an “American invasion.” This is a case where we would be wiser to act primarily although not exclusively through proxies–both external (Turkey, Jordan) and internal (the Free Syrian Army). But we do need to act; we can’t simply sit on the sidelines watching the civil war spiral out of control.

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Extremists Filling Power Vacuum in Syria

The Syrian civil war is not only continuing to claim a ghastly toll within Syria, with a continuing regime assault on Aleppo–it is also now sucking Lebanon into the muck too. Shiite clans within Lebanon are kidnapping Syrian rebel fighters who are said to be holding their clansmen prisoners. In retaliation Lebanese Sunnis are threatening to kidnap Lebanese Shiites. Thus Syria’s instability is upsetting the delicate balance of power within Lebanon, raising concerns that, two decades after the end of its bloody civil war, which claimed 100,000 lives, there could be a recurrence of fighting within Lebanon.

This is yet another indictment of the understandable but misguided hands-off policy the U.S. and its allies are following in Syria, where we appear to be content to stand by and let the fighting take its course–much as previous administrations did in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The terrible consequences of our inaction can be measured not only in regional destabilization but also in a growing vacuum of power within Syria which extremists are trying to fill. Former journalist Bartle Bull, who recently visited Syria, offers this revealing exchange with a rebel commander:

Mohamed said he would happily accept help from Washington. “We need everything.” He is not interested in help from Al Qaeda. Still, America’s refusal to get serious about military aid provides the extremists with their only opening. “I can take Al Qaeda’s money,” another irate commander told me. “Is that what you want me to do?”

It would be a tragedy if this and other rebel commanders were in fact driven into Al Qaeda’s camp by neglect in the West. It does not have to be this way. As Bull writes: “Providing the rebels with as few as 500 Stinger missiles and 1,000 tank-busting R.P.G.-7’s could potentially cut the conflict’s length in half. And grounding Mr. Assad’s air force, keeping his tanks off the roads, and neutralizing his command-and-control would be likely to bring him down within a couple of months.”

I would hesitate to provide sophisticated surface-to-air missiles to the rebels, given the danger that they could wind up in the wrong hands. But we should provide better anti-tank weapons and, in lieu of Stingers, the U.S. and its allies should simply declare a no-fly zone to ground Assad’s air force. As Bull notes, this, along with some targeted air strikes of the kind that NATO mounted in Libya, could hasten Assad’s ouster and speed attempts to reimpose a semblance of authority in Syria. Allowing the conflict to take its course, by contrast, virtually guarantees that it will foment dangerous extremism inside Syria and out.

The Syrian civil war is not only continuing to claim a ghastly toll within Syria, with a continuing regime assault on Aleppo–it is also now sucking Lebanon into the muck too. Shiite clans within Lebanon are kidnapping Syrian rebel fighters who are said to be holding their clansmen prisoners. In retaliation Lebanese Sunnis are threatening to kidnap Lebanese Shiites. Thus Syria’s instability is upsetting the delicate balance of power within Lebanon, raising concerns that, two decades after the end of its bloody civil war, which claimed 100,000 lives, there could be a recurrence of fighting within Lebanon.

This is yet another indictment of the understandable but misguided hands-off policy the U.S. and its allies are following in Syria, where we appear to be content to stand by and let the fighting take its course–much as previous administrations did in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The terrible consequences of our inaction can be measured not only in regional destabilization but also in a growing vacuum of power within Syria which extremists are trying to fill. Former journalist Bartle Bull, who recently visited Syria, offers this revealing exchange with a rebel commander:

Mohamed said he would happily accept help from Washington. “We need everything.” He is not interested in help from Al Qaeda. Still, America’s refusal to get serious about military aid provides the extremists with their only opening. “I can take Al Qaeda’s money,” another irate commander told me. “Is that what you want me to do?”

It would be a tragedy if this and other rebel commanders were in fact driven into Al Qaeda’s camp by neglect in the West. It does not have to be this way. As Bull writes: “Providing the rebels with as few as 500 Stinger missiles and 1,000 tank-busting R.P.G.-7’s could potentially cut the conflict’s length in half. And grounding Mr. Assad’s air force, keeping his tanks off the roads, and neutralizing his command-and-control would be likely to bring him down within a couple of months.”

I would hesitate to provide sophisticated surface-to-air missiles to the rebels, given the danger that they could wind up in the wrong hands. But we should provide better anti-tank weapons and, in lieu of Stingers, the U.S. and its allies should simply declare a no-fly zone to ground Assad’s air force. As Bull notes, this, along with some targeted air strikes of the kind that NATO mounted in Libya, could hasten Assad’s ouster and speed attempts to reimpose a semblance of authority in Syria. Allowing the conflict to take its course, by contrast, virtually guarantees that it will foment dangerous extremism inside Syria and out.

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A Vacuum Recognized Is Not a Vacuum Filled

The central pillar of the rebuttal to complaints about American defense spending compared to that of the rest of the world is the fact that other countries–or continents, in Europe’s case–can only afford to skimp on defense spending because the U.S. will pick up the slack. American defense cuts, if not done carefully and responsibly, risk leaving a vacuum in areas where the U.S. military has carried the burden of influence.

So it’s not surprising that the prospect of American defense cuts, together with the “pivot” of resources to the Asia-Pacific region, are making some European allies nervous. Britain’s new defense minister, however, has some advice for his European counterparts: stop whining and pitch in:

Instead of worrying about the cutbacks to U.S. military power in the region, which many NATO countries apparently had been counting on to offset their own deep defense reductions, [Phillip] Hammond said the allies must recognize that “as a result, European nations, including the UK, will need to do much more of the heavy lifting in the security of their own region,” including both Europe itself and the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Horn of Africa, which he called “the near abroad.”

“This is not the end of Atlanticism, but the beginning of a new, more balanced relationship in the alliance,” Hammond said.

While the U.S.-UK ties will always be Britain’s priority, Hammond said, “to support your rebalancing [to Asia], we will seek to work more closely with our neighbors in Europe, particularly France and Germany, to enhance capabilities in our own region.”

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The central pillar of the rebuttal to complaints about American defense spending compared to that of the rest of the world is the fact that other countries–or continents, in Europe’s case–can only afford to skimp on defense spending because the U.S. will pick up the slack. American defense cuts, if not done carefully and responsibly, risk leaving a vacuum in areas where the U.S. military has carried the burden of influence.

So it’s not surprising that the prospect of American defense cuts, together with the “pivot” of resources to the Asia-Pacific region, are making some European allies nervous. Britain’s new defense minister, however, has some advice for his European counterparts: stop whining and pitch in:

Instead of worrying about the cutbacks to U.S. military power in the region, which many NATO countries apparently had been counting on to offset their own deep defense reductions, [Phillip] Hammond said the allies must recognize that “as a result, European nations, including the UK, will need to do much more of the heavy lifting in the security of their own region,” including both Europe itself and the Middle East, Northern Africa, and the Horn of Africa, which he called “the near abroad.”

“This is not the end of Atlanticism, but the beginning of a new, more balanced relationship in the alliance,” Hammond said.

While the U.S.-UK ties will always be Britain’s priority, Hammond said, “to support your rebalancing [to Asia], we will seek to work more closely with our neighbors in Europe, particularly France and Germany, to enhance capabilities in our own region.”

It’s a nice thought, and it certainly would be the responsible thing to do. But there’s no reason to pretend this will happen. France just excused their pro-Western president from his duties to replace him with the leader of the French socialists, and absent conditions threatening a localized catastrophe–think Libya–it’s difficult to imagine the French increasing their role in defense of the West.

As for Germany, the country was greeted with Nazi catcalls for simply trying to maintain leverage over the conditions of bailing out failing European economies and saving the euro–just imagine what Europe’s reaction would be if Germany so much as hinted at becoming the continent’s new military power. It’s a nonstarter.

And what about Britain? As Max wrote here a couple weeks ago, British defense cuts will pare down the standing army to its lowest level in a century, and its diplomatic influence will wane accordingly. Hammond focused his remarks on, in his words, “the European NATO powers.” This is telling–and unfortunate. As Josh Rogin reported after the U.S.-hosted NATO summit in May:

This weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago is the first in decades to make little to no progress on the enlargement of the organization, leaving several countries to wait another two years to move toward membership in the world’s premier military alliance.

In the official 65-point summit declaration issued Sunday, there were several references to the four countries vying for progress on their road to NATO membership: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Georgia. But none came away from the summit with any tangible progress to tout back at home. NATO expansion was just not a priority of the Obama administration this year, U.S. officials and experts say, given the packed security-focused agenda and looming uncertainly caused by the deepening European financial crisis.

So the crisis in Europe had the opposite effect from what Hammond is suggesting; rather than retrench and build the West’s military alliance, everyone was too busy chewing his fingernails to get any work done.

This is not to say there are no reasons for caution on enlarging NATO. It’s that no progress was even attempted. And countries developing or experimenting with democratic laws and norms don’t usually tread water–they should be helped forward so they don’t fall back. NATO membership action plans can often be useful in this regard, as Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Rogin:

Conley pointed to the Serbian elections this weekend, where Serbians chose an ultra-nationalist known as “Toma the Gravedigger” to be their president, as evidence that these countries could slip back toward authoritarianism if not given full support and inclusion by Western organizations.

The West is not always to blame. Often a country slipping back toward authoritarianism and corruption poses a chicken-or-egg question: Was Ukraine rejected by the West, or did they choose to reject the West (or orchestrate their rejection by the West)? But the underlying point is valid, and we cannot continue brushing off countries and expecting them not to take a hint. (Georgia, for example, has contributed more to the Afghanistan mission than some NATO countries.)

Now would be a great time to expand the Western alliance. Until that happens, Europe and NATO will continue to recede from the world stage, and Hammond’s good advice will be unceremoniously ignored.

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Will Turkey Expose NATO Secrets to China?

Turkey is currently considering bids to upgrade its air defense system. While a member of NATO since 1952, the Islamist leadership in Turkey has made clear it no longer sees itself bound by the responsibility to protect NATO secrets nor the Turkish leadership factor into its decisions NATO’s security requirements.

Should Turkey decide to go with the Russian S-300 or Chinese HQ-9 it will have two choices: either have its air defense system disconnected from systems involved in NATO, or perhaps betray NATO secrets. If Turkey will not commit to protect sensitive information impacting U.S. defense, it remains curious why the Obama administration seems intent to go ahead with a sale of the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Alas, as always, the Congressional Turkey Caucus remains silent.

Turkey is currently considering bids to upgrade its air defense system. While a member of NATO since 1952, the Islamist leadership in Turkey has made clear it no longer sees itself bound by the responsibility to protect NATO secrets nor the Turkish leadership factor into its decisions NATO’s security requirements.

Should Turkey decide to go with the Russian S-300 or Chinese HQ-9 it will have two choices: either have its air defense system disconnected from systems involved in NATO, or perhaps betray NATO secrets. If Turkey will not commit to protect sensitive information impacting U.S. defense, it remains curious why the Obama administration seems intent to go ahead with a sale of the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Alas, as always, the Congressional Turkey Caucus remains silent.

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U.S.-Pakistan Relations Still Bizarre

So it appears the standoff which led to the closing of the NATO supply line through Pakistan in November has finally been resolved. After resisting offering an apology for an incident in which a cross-border firefight led to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally delivered language that would satisfy Pakistan. As she said in a statement:

“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”

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So it appears the standoff which led to the closing of the NATO supply line through Pakistan in November has finally been resolved. After resisting offering an apology for an incident in which a cross-border firefight led to the deaths of two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally delivered language that would satisfy Pakistan. As she said in a statement:

“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”

That simple statement was, of course, the subject of many months of contentious negotiations. It is hard to blame the administration for finally kowtowing, at least in a limited way, toward Pakistani sensitivities. After all, the closure of the “GLOC” (ground line of communications), even if it did not disrupt NATO operations, was costing us an extra $100 million a month to ferry goods from Central Asia. But this should not make anyone think relations with Pakistan have been restored to normal–a term tough to even apply to our bizarre relationship with this state which claims to be an ally and yet sponsors terrorist groups which regularly kill American soldiers.

Nor should this deal lead us to shy away from taking some of the tough steps–such as using drones to target Taliban and Haqqani leaders inside Pakistan–that will still arouse Pakistani ire and that could lead to a closure of the GLOC once again. If we don’t do more to strike at the insurgent leadership, we will not be able to leave even minimal stability behind in Afghanistan after 2014.

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Political Victory Out of Battlefield Defeats

The United Nations has hardly been a cheerleader for the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. In fact, UN representatives have often been skeptical of the methods and tactics employed by American troops. So it is particularly noteworthy that even the UN is recording a big drop—21 percent–in civilian deaths in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period a year ago. This tallies with NATO figures showing a drop in insurgent attacks—evidence that the post-2009 surge is working.

Unfortunately, just as American troops and their allies are making demonstrable progress, their political masters are preparing to pull them out. French troops are due to leave this year and more than 20,000 American troops are due to leave in September with more, perhaps, to follow before long. Western politicians would be foolish, now that the coalition actually has the initiative and the Taliban are on their heels, to let up on the pressure. But that is precisely what may happen, allowing the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al., to pull a political victory out of their battlefield defeats.

The United Nations has hardly been a cheerleader for the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. In fact, UN representatives have often been skeptical of the methods and tactics employed by American troops. So it is particularly noteworthy that even the UN is recording a big drop—21 percent–in civilian deaths in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period a year ago. This tallies with NATO figures showing a drop in insurgent attacks—evidence that the post-2009 surge is working.

Unfortunately, just as American troops and their allies are making demonstrable progress, their political masters are preparing to pull them out. French troops are due to leave this year and more than 20,000 American troops are due to leave in September with more, perhaps, to follow before long. Western politicians would be foolish, now that the coalition actually has the initiative and the Taliban are on their heels, to let up on the pressure. But that is precisely what may happen, allowing the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al., to pull a political victory out of their battlefield defeats.

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U.S. Aid to Pakistan Must Be Monitored

The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

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The NATO summit in Chicago has come and gone and still no agreement with Pakistan on reopening the NATO supply line that had been closed last November after a border fight between Pakistan’s troops and a contingent of U.S. and Afghan soldiers. President Zardari had been invited to the meeting on the assumption that an agreement was imminent and that his appearance would be the final push needed to finalize the details. Instead, he showed up and was snubbed by President Obama, who rightly refused to hold a meeting with Zardari until a deal was done. Various news outlets have reported that the two sides remain far apart in how much per truck NATO will have to pay Pakistan: The Pakistanis reportedly want a staggering $5,000 per truck–far more than the cash-strapped Pentagon wants to pay.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has handed down a 33-year prison sentence to the doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. This is adding insult to injury and underlines, for the umpteenth time, that Pakistan is no ally of the U.S. Sometimes it can act in cooperation with the U.S., but even that is increasingly rare these days. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a Senate appropriations subcommittee just voted to slash U.S. aid to Pakistan, to $1 billion, roughly half the amount the administration had requested, and even part of that is conditional on the reopening of the supply line.

Frankly, it is difficult to see why we are providing any aid to the Pakistan state when it continues to support the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other insurgent groups that are killing Americans and our allies. Perhaps some aid to Pakistan’s civil society is warranted, but it must be carefully monitored to assure that it does not help to subsidize Pakistan’s military. Some level of payments for trans-shipment rights may still be justifiable, but I’m not even sure of that. The Pakistan supply line has been closed since November, and it is not clear it has had much of an impact on NATO military operations.

When I was in Afghanistan a few weeks ago, I found even remote bases well-stocked with the kinds of provisions (e.g., ice cream and eggs) that had been scarce during past supply disruptions. That’s a tribute to the U.S. success in rerouting logistics through the Northern Distribution Network, and yet another reason why we need to think twice before extending any more aid to Islamabad.

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Obama Rolls Over Again for the Turks

It was only last month when the State Department was acknowledging that Israel is “one of NATO’s partners [and] has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera.” The context was a surreal exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland regarding how Turkey was vetoing Israel from participating in this week’s Chicago NATO summit. Lee expressed confusion at the bland acquiescence with which the Obama administration was meeting Turkey’s machinations:

QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to help you out here, because you’re going to get absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: I understand. Matt, there is no –
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn’t be objecting to Israel’s participation if someone hadn’t proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate –
MS. NULAND: Again –
QUESTION: — and you’re not willing to stick up for it, I don’t understand why.

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It was only last month when the State Department was acknowledging that Israel is “one of NATO’s partners [and] has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera.” The context was a surreal exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland regarding how Turkey was vetoing Israel from participating in this week’s Chicago NATO summit. Lee expressed confusion at the bland acquiescence with which the Obama administration was meeting Turkey’s machinations:

QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to help you out here, because you’re going to get absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: I understand. Matt, there is no –
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn’t be objecting to Israel’s participation if someone hadn’t proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate –
MS. NULAND: Again –
QUESTION: — and you’re not willing to stick up for it, I don’t understand why.

Of course, Israel ended up getting excluded from the summit. The White House and State Department have subsequently scrambled from one excuse to another, lest people settle on the obvious: that the Obama administration is allowing Turkey to drive a wedge between Israel and NATO, thereby damaging NATO’s coordination with allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, undermining America’s ability to project power into the region, eroding the U.S.-Israel alliance, and making the Israelis feel isolated and nervous right as they’re making critical decisions about going it alone on Iran.

Administration officials first condescendingly insisted that critics had a “misconception” about how NATO worked. There just wasn’t enough time and space to invite members from “all those partnerships and alliance[s].” Then it turned out that there was room for members of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. The Initiative, though undoubtedly valuable, is unlikely to be as critical to NATO’s core focus on the Mediterranean than the Mediterranean Dialogue of which Israel is a part.

So last week the standard for attendance shifted. The new bar was participation in the NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Quote-unquote from NATO’s Secretary-General Rasmussen: “Israel has not been invited to attend the summit because Israel is neither a participant in ISAF, nor in KFOR.”

But that still won’t work. Summit participant Jordan is a formal ISAF partner but provides exactly nothing worth listing to the mission. Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Qatar are also in Chicago, even though none are in ISAF or KFOR.

One wonders, then, what new excuse the Obama administration will trot out this week?

The answer can’t be about providing input on Kosovo or Afghanistian. That might colorably bring the Stans on board – regional presence, supply lines, etc – but not Qatar. Even worse for the administration’s prevarication, they can’t use that to justify excluding Israel. It was just last month when IAF chief Ido Nechushtan was awarded a U.S. Air Force decoration for the contributions the IAF has made to America’s war-fighting capabilities in Afghanistan. If the goal is to brainstorm how to fight in and/or withdraw from the country, Israeli input would seem relatively valuable.

The White House’s overarching narrative is that Turkey never vetoed Israel’s invitation to the Chicago summit because Israel was never invited to the Chicago summit. That’s hard to believe but – if it’s true – it’s a cause for deep concern. Invitations were sent out to over 30 non-NATO members, including those with no connections to NATO, but no one remembered to invite the American ally and NATO partner that controls the Middle East’s most powerful military? Forget the Obama White House’s supine acquiescence to Turkey’s neo-Ottoman weight throwing. According to this theory, the most successful military alliance in history is being run by idiots.

Luckily of course, that’s not true. NATO is not run by idiots, and all signs indicated that Israel was going to participate in Chicago. Then the Turks apparently rolled over the White House and excluded the Jewish State. One wonders, also, how much resistance they encountered.

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“Afghan Good Enough”

Earlier today, I blogged about the revelation in the New York Times that, in the words of one of the president’s advisers, in Afghanistan, “The military was ‘all in,’ as they say, and Obama wasn’t.” Meaning that the military wanted to pursue a wide-ranging counterinsurgency strategy and Obama didn’t.

This has been accompanied by numerous leaks about how the administration was redefining success downward, the mantra being the condescending formulation,”Afghan good enough.” The president’s own national security adviser told reporters on the record: “The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that forces like al-Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world.” (Does that mean that “impeded” safe havens would be ok?)

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Earlier today, I blogged about the revelation in the New York Times that, in the words of one of the president’s advisers, in Afghanistan, “The military was ‘all in,’ as they say, and Obama wasn’t.” Meaning that the military wanted to pursue a wide-ranging counterinsurgency strategy and Obama didn’t.

This has been accompanied by numerous leaks about how the administration was redefining success downward, the mantra being the condescending formulation,”Afghan good enough.” The president’s own national security adviser told reporters on the record: “The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that forces like al-Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world.” (Does that mean that “impeded” safe havens would be ok?)

All of this is worth keeping in mind if you take the trouble to read the official Chicago Summit Declaration issued by all the heads of state attending the NATO summit. Look at paragraphs 8 and 9 in particular:

8. We reiterate the importance Allies attach to seeing tangible progress by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding its commitments made at the Bonn Conference on 5 December 2011 to a democratic society, based on the rule of law and good governance, including progress in the fight against corruption, where the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the equality of men and women and the active participation of both in Afghan society, are respected.  …

9. We also underscore the importance of our shared understanding with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding the full participation of all Afghan women in the reconstruction, political, peace and reconciliation processes in Afghanistan and the need to respect the institutional arrangements protecting their rights. We recognize also the need for the protection of children from the damaging effects of armed conflict.

So which is it: Are we committed to minimal goals, primarily focused on leaving Afghanistan as quickly as possible and not leaving behind “unimpeded” al-Qaeda safe havens, or are we committed to establishing “the rule of law and good governance,” including guaranteeing the rights “of all Afghan women”? This discrepancy is hard to understand or explain. It can only mean one thing: Either the president isn’t leveling with us when he says we will pursue minimalist goals or he isn’t leveling with us when he signs a summit declaration that commits us to maximalist goals.

If the armed forces are confused about what our mission is, they are not alone. It is hard to see any clarity from such conflicting statements of our aims.

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Blame America First: Putin Edition

Some of Vladimir Putin’s defenders in the West have a strange habit: moving quickly and effortlessly from understanding Putin’s motives to defending his behavior. A good example comes today from Doug Bandow, writing at the Cato Institute’s blog. Bandow makes two logical mistakes that have become increasingly common among critics of bipartisan policy toward the post-Soviet space, both jumping off from reasonable premises.

The first argument Bandow makes stems from Mitt Romney’s comments, in the wake of the revelation that President Obama told Dmitry Medvedev that he cannot be honest with the American people about his intentions toward Russia until after his reelection campaign, that Russia is our “number one geopolitical foe.” But instead of responding with the case for why, say, Iran is really higher on the geopolitical foe list than Russia, Bandow says this:

As Jacob Heilbrunn of National Interest pointed out, this claim embodies a monumental self-contradiction, attempting to claim “credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, on the one hand [while] predicting dire threats from Russia on the other.” Thankfully, the U.S.S.R. really is gone, and neither all the king’s men nor Vladimir Putin can put it back together.

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Some of Vladimir Putin’s defenders in the West have a strange habit: moving quickly and effortlessly from understanding Putin’s motives to defending his behavior. A good example comes today from Doug Bandow, writing at the Cato Institute’s blog. Bandow makes two logical mistakes that have become increasingly common among critics of bipartisan policy toward the post-Soviet space, both jumping off from reasonable premises.

The first argument Bandow makes stems from Mitt Romney’s comments, in the wake of the revelation that President Obama told Dmitry Medvedev that he cannot be honest with the American people about his intentions toward Russia until after his reelection campaign, that Russia is our “number one geopolitical foe.” But instead of responding with the case for why, say, Iran is really higher on the geopolitical foe list than Russia, Bandow says this:

As Jacob Heilbrunn of National Interest pointed out, this claim embodies a monumental self-contradiction, attempting to claim “credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, on the one hand [while] predicting dire threats from Russia on the other.” Thankfully, the U.S.S.R. really is gone, and neither all the king’s men nor Vladimir Putin can put it back together.

This is a serious logical blunder. It’s true that the Soviet Union is dead and buried, but it is not a “self-contradiction,” monumental or otherwise, to believe that the Soviet Union was defeated and that Russia is capable of posing a threat. You don’t even have to believe Russia currently poses a threat. The simple fact that Russia can pose a threat debunks the nonsensical idea that Romney’s statement is a “self-contradiction.” Does Bandow believe it is utterly impossible for Russia to pose a threat? I doubt it.

The contradiction, rather, is Bandow’s: he says the Soviet Union “really is gone” and then speaks as though Russia is the Soviet Union, and therefore cannot pose a threat because it’s “really” gone. And where is Bandow’s judgment? The Heilbrunn piece he approvingly links to is an absolute mess from start to finish; he should know better.

The other mistake Bandow makes begins with an uncontroversial statement: that NATO enlargement gets under Putin’s skin. It’s true: we in the West like democracies, and Putin doesn’t. If the situation were reversed, he writes, and Russia “ringed America with bases, and established military relationships with areas that had broken away from the U.S., Washington would not react well.”

We can argue about whether and how much our own geostrategic plans should mirror Vladimir Putin’s wish list, but it’s clear Putin was bothered enough by the prospect of further NATO enlargement to send some messengers on tanks to Georgia and to demand that the U.S. help Russia depose Georgia’s elected president. (Medvedev recently explained that this is precisely why Russia went to war with Georgia.)

But rather than leave it at that, Bandow then writes: “It might react, well, a lot like Moscow has been reacting.”

Really? If President Obama saw Russia establishing allies in the West, he would … enable the slaughter of thousands by shielding murderous dictators like Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council? Bandow thinks he would aid, abet, protect, and hide the illicit nuclear weapons program of the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism? He would steal elections? He would jail bloggers? Assassinate whistleblowers on foreign soil and at least tolerate the assassination of journalists at home? Cut off energy supplies in the dead of winter from those who refused to do his bidding? Which one of these things does Bandow think is the appropriate reaction to the enlargement of NATO, and which of these things does Bandow think Washington would do?

Romney’s critics believe his response to Obama’s hot-mic moment was an overreaction. But even if you believe that, it was not nearly the overreaction of those who responded by excusing Putin’s unjustifiable subjugation of his people or blaming America when authoritarian thugs behave as such.

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Obama Letting Turkey Drive a Wedge Between NATO and Israel

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan share a warm friendship. The Turkish PM is considered a close foreign friend to a president who notoriously has very few. And though American diplomatic cables concluded years ago that the AKP harbors neo-Ottoman ambitions, risking “‘creeping’ Islamization, naivete, and anti-Westernism,” the president has continued boosting Turkey’s regional posture and insulating the AKP’s domestic position.

The Obama administration has supported a leading role for Turkey on Syria. It has tried to put Bulgaria in Turkey’s orbit. It has even transferred Super Cobra helicopters from Afghanistan to Turkey so Turkish troops could use them against Kurds, part of the Turkish army’s cross-border bombing campaign. For the first time in 100 years, the Turkish navy is conducting general-purpose patrols in the Mediterranean. They’re threatening Israel and Cyprus, telling energy companies that they might get attacked by Turkish troops, freaking out the Greeks, and pledging maritime dominance. The White House is seemingly unable or unwilling to stop these provocations.

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President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan share a warm friendship. The Turkish PM is considered a close foreign friend to a president who notoriously has very few. And though American diplomatic cables concluded years ago that the AKP harbors neo-Ottoman ambitions, risking “‘creeping’ Islamization, naivete, and anti-Westernism,” the president has continued boosting Turkey’s regional posture and insulating the AKP’s domestic position.

The Obama administration has supported a leading role for Turkey on Syria. It has tried to put Bulgaria in Turkey’s orbit. It has even transferred Super Cobra helicopters from Afghanistan to Turkey so Turkish troops could use them against Kurds, part of the Turkish army’s cross-border bombing campaign. For the first time in 100 years, the Turkish navy is conducting general-purpose patrols in the Mediterranean. They’re threatening Israel and Cyprus, telling energy companies that they might get attacked by Turkish troops, freaking out the Greeks, and pledging maritime dominance. The White House is seemingly unable or unwilling to stop these provocations.

The Turks have responded to Obama’s indulgence by sabotaging American policy in Central Asia and the Middle East: voting against international Iran sanctions, refusing to implement U.S. Iran sanctions, and undermining the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which has been the central pillar of U.S. strategy in the region for decades.

Now Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Davutoglu have dragged NATO into their campaign to force Israel to “kneel down” to Turkey.

In the last few months, Turkey has vetoed a new Israel office from opening at NATO headquarters. It has blocked joint military exercises between Israel and NATO. It has categorically refused to share any intelligence from NATO’s X-Band missile defense radars with Israel – forever – over the objections of Congress but apparently with administration assent. As the radars were deployed, Turkey even demanded that NATO remove all references linking the arrays to Iranian threats, emptying what could have been a symbol of international unity against the mullahs.

Many of the AKP’s worst inclinations converge at blocking Israeli/NATO cooperation. The neo-Ottoman itch to throw around Turkish weight gets scratched by asserting “control” over the radars. Turkey also gets to exert some influence over NATO itself, which currently imposes some constraints on Ankara (the Turks had also previously blocked alliance action in Libya). Even Turkey’s strategy of isolating its enemies in international forums – something Ankara also does to Cyprus in the EU – gets advanced.

Above and beyond the harm this does to Israel directly, Turkey’s actions are directly endangering American national security. As a matter of like-it-or-not geostrategic reality, Israel is a critical Western ally and a regional power. Coordination between Israel and the U.S., and Israel and NATO, is critical to American power projection in the region. Turkey is undermining that cooperation out of sheer pique, and hurting American interests in the process. The diplomatic onslaught is also making the Israelis incredibly nervous about the constancy of multilateral and bilateral assurances and alliances, at a time when sraeli nervousness on those issues is less than opportune.

And yet the anti-Israel foreign policy experts, who regularly invent newer and more fantastic scenarios as to why Israel is a net drag on U.S. interests, are either silent or blaming Israel for Turkish intransigence. Strange, that.

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