Commentary Magazine


Topic: Robert Kagan

Rubio Blasts Republican Isolationists

Jonathan is right, Marco Rubio is far more prepared for the VP slot than Sarah Palin in 2008. Case in point: he delivered an impressive speech on foreign policy earlier today at the Brookings Institute. He even lost the last page of his remarks (every speaker’s nightmare) but managed to take it in stride.

The full text of the speech is worth reading here, but his direct repudiation of the isolationist streak within his own party is drawing the most attention:

I am always cautious about generalizations but until very recently, the general perception was that American conservatism believed in a robust and muscular foreign policy. That was certainly the hallmark of the foreign policy of President Reagan, and both President Bush’s. But when I arrived in the Senate last year I found that some of the traditional sides in the foreign policy debate had shifted.

On the one hand, I found liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and staying out of Libya. On the other hand, I found myself partnering with Democrats like Bob Menendez and Bob Casey on a more forceful foreign policy. In fact, resolutions that I co-authored with Senator Casey condemning Assad and with Senator Menendez condemning fraudulent elections in Nicaragua were held up by Republicans. I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left.

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Jonathan is right, Marco Rubio is far more prepared for the VP slot than Sarah Palin in 2008. Case in point: he delivered an impressive speech on foreign policy earlier today at the Brookings Institute. He even lost the last page of his remarks (every speaker’s nightmare) but managed to take it in stride.

The full text of the speech is worth reading here, but his direct repudiation of the isolationist streak within his own party is drawing the most attention:

I am always cautious about generalizations but until very recently, the general perception was that American conservatism believed in a robust and muscular foreign policy. That was certainly the hallmark of the foreign policy of President Reagan, and both President Bush’s. But when I arrived in the Senate last year I found that some of the traditional sides in the foreign policy debate had shifted.

On the one hand, I found liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and staying out of Libya. On the other hand, I found myself partnering with Democrats like Bob Menendez and Bob Casey on a more forceful foreign policy. In fact, resolutions that I co-authored with Senator Casey condemning Assad and with Senator Menendez condemning fraudulent elections in Nicaragua were held up by Republicans. I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left.

The far-left and far-right don’t just agree on the embrace of American decline, but also on the other problematic attitudes that tend to go along with isolationism and non-interventionism, including antipathy toward Israel and indifference to human rights in other countries. As a young senator elected with Tea Party support, Rubio is in a prime position to rebut creeping isolationism/non-interventionism among the conservative grassroots.

Rubio gave a broad outline of his vision for U.S. foreign policy, which is heavily influenced by Robert Kagan’s arguments on the myth of American decline (Kagan has also advised Romney on foreign policy). Rubio spoke passionately about human rights and called the spread of political and economic freedom across the world “a vital interest” for the U.S. He acknowledged that working in coalitions with other countries is often helpful, but added that these coalitions are most successful when the U.S. takes the lead. And he argued that if military action needs to be used against Iran, then Israel shouldn’t be left to shoulder the burden on its own.

Still, this is a speech that Rubio could have delayed for a few months. The fact that he decided to give it today, at the height of speculation over his possible VP nod, seems to indicate that he’s either interested in the job, or just wants to give the impression that he is.

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Author Speaks to America’s Resilience

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution has written a short, thoughtful book, The World America Made, which he discussed in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.

Kagan argues that America remains–contrary to common perception–in very strong shape vis-à-vis the rest of the world, and he explains why. But he warns that we can “talk ourselves into decline” by indulging the misplaced perception that we are in decline. And if that were to happen, it would have very bad consequences for the world order America helped to create and has maintained, at an admittedly high cost.

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Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution has written a short, thoughtful book, The World America Made, which he discussed in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.

Kagan argues that America remains–contrary to common perception–in very strong shape vis-à-vis the rest of the world, and he explains why. But he warns that we can “talk ourselves into decline” by indulging the misplaced perception that we are in decline. And if that were to happen, it would have very bad consequences for the world order America helped to create and has maintained, at an admittedly high cost.

Kagan is no Pollyanna; he recognizes the crises we face (especially on the fiscal side of things). But he provides a nuanced perspective, reminding Rose of past challenges. (There is a tendency in every generation, I think, to assume the problems we confront are unprecedented and more difficult than anything that came before, which is for the most part sheer nonsense.) Kagan also speaks to America’s remarkable resilience and some of the unique advantages we still have (including the fact that we face no great power threat in our own hemisphere); the damage of deep defense cuts; the dangers and possibilities of the so-called Arab Spring; and why he considers the right sensibilities to be even more important than experience when it comes to selecting a president.

America is, and has always been, a conflicted, even schizophrenic, nation when it comes to its role in the world. The president, Kagan argues, needs to push back against the sentiments for withdrawal and isolation that periodically arise in the United States. We retain, after all, the capacity to shape the world and bend events in the direction of justice. That’s a heavy burden, but a noble one, too.

The World America Made is a useful antidote to talk of an inevitable American decline; and it’s a good reminder why Bob Kagan remains one of America’s finest foreign policy minds.

 

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Sputnik, Egypt, and the Consensus

I do agree with Ted Bromund’s conclusion on the default mentality of the center-left: it’s both a symptom and a cause of our educational system. Ted puts it this way:

The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

This is one reason I have sympathy and concern for the Obama administration as it tries to grapple with the problems piling up in 2011. Its highest hurdle may be the default mentality Ted refers to: a mentality that has a reflexive way of seeing everything but admits little audit from reality.

The divorce between the conventional-left consensus and reality has been startlingly clear over the past few weeks. Confronted with reality, the consensus — or the Consensus — is out of ideas. To drum up enthusiasm for new deficit spending, a 20th-century Consensus remedy with the track record of 16th-century medical procedures, President Obama reached backward past decades of left-wing “debunking” to invoke Sputnik. Soon he’ll be rallying us with the cry of “Better dead than Red!” The Consensus knows only that the spending must be done; selling it need not be accomplished with thematic consistency.

Faced now with the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama is simply silent. It’s as if he and his advisers are waiting for a new consensus to form. The old, reliable Consensus would tell them only that popular unrest is noble and positive, and the American government invariably does the wrong thing about it when it erupts abroad. These can be satisfying conclusions in an academic or editorial environment, but they offer no useful framework for official policy.

There is still great inertia behind the Consensus. It has been proclaimed dead often throughout the last 30 years, but the continuation of the Pax Americana — with everything that means at home and abroad — has just as often rescued it. Coexistence with an often antithetical reality has been possible because, for the most part, the Consensus has thrived as a self-appointed dissenting opposition, in a stasis maintained on the principles of others.

As the Consensus would have it, Team Obama is now on the hook for choosing the “wrong” thing America does about Egypt. That intellectual limitation certainly poses a challenge to policy. We’ll see in the coming days if the administration can transcend it. Alana Goodman notes that Obama has invited Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams to participate in his deliberations, which is a good start. Obama has sometimes proposed to listen to conventional, “neoconservative,” or hawkish voices in foreign-policy matters, rather than hear solely from an ideologically unified core of advisers. But the Consensus long ago adopted the views of Marxism on the meaning and utility of national responses, traditional diplomacy, alliances, and the defense of national interests. Having seen these concepts devalued for decades, those schooled in the Consensus are likely to find the learning curve steep.

I do agree with Ted Bromund’s conclusion on the default mentality of the center-left: it’s both a symptom and a cause of our educational system. Ted puts it this way:

The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

This is one reason I have sympathy and concern for the Obama administration as it tries to grapple with the problems piling up in 2011. Its highest hurdle may be the default mentality Ted refers to: a mentality that has a reflexive way of seeing everything but admits little audit from reality.

The divorce between the conventional-left consensus and reality has been startlingly clear over the past few weeks. Confronted with reality, the consensus — or the Consensus — is out of ideas. To drum up enthusiasm for new deficit spending, a 20th-century Consensus remedy with the track record of 16th-century medical procedures, President Obama reached backward past decades of left-wing “debunking” to invoke Sputnik. Soon he’ll be rallying us with the cry of “Better dead than Red!” The Consensus knows only that the spending must be done; selling it need not be accomplished with thematic consistency.

Faced now with the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama is simply silent. It’s as if he and his advisers are waiting for a new consensus to form. The old, reliable Consensus would tell them only that popular unrest is noble and positive, and the American government invariably does the wrong thing about it when it erupts abroad. These can be satisfying conclusions in an academic or editorial environment, but they offer no useful framework for official policy.

There is still great inertia behind the Consensus. It has been proclaimed dead often throughout the last 30 years, but the continuation of the Pax Americana — with everything that means at home and abroad — has just as often rescued it. Coexistence with an often antithetical reality has been possible because, for the most part, the Consensus has thrived as a self-appointed dissenting opposition, in a stasis maintained on the principles of others.

As the Consensus would have it, Team Obama is now on the hook for choosing the “wrong” thing America does about Egypt. That intellectual limitation certainly poses a challenge to policy. We’ll see in the coming days if the administration can transcend it. Alana Goodman notes that Obama has invited Robert Kagan and Elliott Abrams to participate in his deliberations, which is a good start. Obama has sometimes proposed to listen to conventional, “neoconservative,” or hawkish voices in foreign-policy matters, rather than hear solely from an ideologically unified core of advisers. But the Consensus long ago adopted the views of Marxism on the meaning and utility of national responses, traditional diplomacy, alliances, and the defense of national interests. Having seen these concepts devalued for decades, those schooled in the Consensus are likely to find the learning curve steep.

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Look Who’s Back at the White House

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

Who could have imagined, back in 2008, that President Obama would ask some of the most prominent neoconservatives from the Bush administration for foreign-policy advice just a few years later?

Laura Rozen is reporting that Obama has invited Brookings Institute scholar Robert Kagan and former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams to the White House to discuss the situation in Egypt today:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

Kagan and Abrams are meeting with Obama because of their involvement in the Egypt Working Group, an organization that was prophetic in predicting the current crisis in Egypt. Last November, the group was already anticipating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and called on the Obama administration to push the Egyptian leader for human-rights reforms.

The group is now advising the Obama administration to cut foreign aid to Egypt. At Robert Gibbs’s press conference last Friday, he said that Obama was open to going in that direction, and this is a good indication that the administration is seriously considering the idea.

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FPI Conference (Part 3)

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

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How Will the GOP Be Able to Influence Foreign Policy After the Election?

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

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Tough on Iran?

This morning, I took President Obama and his senior staff to task for expressing unwarranted optimism about the prospects of negotiations with Iran. It seems I might have been mislead by news accounts of a meeting between the president and some columnists at the White House.

Robert Kagan, one of the best analysts and historians in the foreign-policy business, was present at the meeting and writes that it was called because “the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran. … What was striking was the president’s sobriety about the issue,” Kagan writes, “his evident pride in the global diplomatic efforts that produced the latest resolution and his determination to pressure the Tehran regime as much as possible.”

That wasn’t the message that go out, however. As Kagan explains:

[Obama] did make clear that the door was, of course, open to the Iranians to change their minds, that sanctions did not preclude diplomacy and engagement, and that if the Iranians ever decide they wanted to “behave responsibly” by complying with the demands of the international community, then the United States was prepared to welcome them.

It is here that this very straightforward briefing took a bizarre and amusing turn. Some of the journalists present, upon hearing the president’s last point about the door still being open to Iran, decided that he was signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative. They started peppering Obama with questions to ferret out exactly what “new” diplomatic actions he was talking about and, after the president left, they continued probing the senior officials. This put the officials in an awkward position: They didn’t want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear — in a half-dozen artful formulations — that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing.

So it seems the president and his top aides have learned something in the past year and a half about the futility of reaching out to the Iranians. I apologize for mischaracterizing their views. But I still remain highly skeptical that the sanctions they’ve pushed through will cause Iran to give up its nuclear program. I am still concerned that the administration has not done enough to help the Green Movement and that it has done too much to take the military option of the table, thereby removing our best leverage against Iran. Bottom line: the administration is still failing to stop a major threat — the Iranian nuclear program. In fairness, as I’ve said before, the Bush administration also failed to stop the Iranians. But  it is Obama who is now in office, and time is running out.

This morning, I took President Obama and his senior staff to task for expressing unwarranted optimism about the prospects of negotiations with Iran. It seems I might have been mislead by news accounts of a meeting between the president and some columnists at the White House.

Robert Kagan, one of the best analysts and historians in the foreign-policy business, was present at the meeting and writes that it was called because “the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran. … What was striking was the president’s sobriety about the issue,” Kagan writes, “his evident pride in the global diplomatic efforts that produced the latest resolution and his determination to pressure the Tehran regime as much as possible.”

That wasn’t the message that go out, however. As Kagan explains:

[Obama] did make clear that the door was, of course, open to the Iranians to change their minds, that sanctions did not preclude diplomacy and engagement, and that if the Iranians ever decide they wanted to “behave responsibly” by complying with the demands of the international community, then the United States was prepared to welcome them.

It is here that this very straightforward briefing took a bizarre and amusing turn. Some of the journalists present, upon hearing the president’s last point about the door still being open to Iran, decided that he was signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative. They started peppering Obama with questions to ferret out exactly what “new” diplomatic actions he was talking about and, after the president left, they continued probing the senior officials. This put the officials in an awkward position: They didn’t want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear — in a half-dozen artful formulations — that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing.

So it seems the president and his top aides have learned something in the past year and a half about the futility of reaching out to the Iranians. I apologize for mischaracterizing their views. But I still remain highly skeptical that the sanctions they’ve pushed through will cause Iran to give up its nuclear program. I am still concerned that the administration has not done enough to help the Green Movement and that it has done too much to take the military option of the table, thereby removing our best leverage against Iran. Bottom line: the administration is still failing to stop a major threat — the Iranian nuclear program. In fairness, as I’ve said before, the Bush administration also failed to stop the Iranians. But  it is Obama who is now in office, and time is running out.

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Appeasing Russia

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

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Hillary Clinton at AIPAC — Then and Now

When Hillary Clinton appeared at AIPAC in 2008, she told the conference that one of her guiding principles was a “simple one; no nuclear weapons for Iran.”

Iran simply cannot be allowed to continue its current behavior and I wish to underscore, I believe that we are further behind in constraining Iran today because of the failed policies of President Bush than we would have been had we taken a much more aggressive engagement course earlier. That is why it is imperative that we get both tough and smart about dealing with Iran before it is too late.

The Obama administration has now spent 15 months allowing Iran to continue its “current behavior.” The “tough and smart” engagement has consisted of an endlessly outstretched hand, combined with self-congratulatory statements about how “isolated” the failed engagement has made Iran. Sanctions that no one expects to be “crippling” are months off, and it is not clear what happens after that.

In his own 2008 AIPAC address, Barack Obama said that we had “no time to waste” and promised to use “all elements of American power to pressure Iran.” The key sentence in his prepared text was “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” – a sentence that generated a standing ovation because, in the speech as delivered, Obama repeated the word “everything” three times:

I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weaponeverything. [emphasis added]

Secretary of State Clinton’s speech this morning included a statement that the U.S. is “determined” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but as Jen notes, the speech included no reference to “all options” remaining on the table, much less the promise that Obama previously made, which was that every option will be used if necessary.

At yesterday’s Roundtable on Foreign Policy, there was the following exchange between moderator Dan Senor, Dr. Robert Kagan, and Senator Evan Bayh:

Dan Senor: Rob, there has been an attempt at engagement for — with Iran now for a year. The results speak for themselves. What are President Obama’s policy options for Iran?

Dr. Robert Kagan: Dan, the president came to office, in my estimation, believing that the key problem with Iran was Iran’s isolation, and you solve the isolation problem through engagement. Well, we figured out pretty early on that that was a mis-analysis, that the key problem was that Iran really wants to have a nuclear bomb. And if that’s the problem, then you need a different strategy, and there are three necessary elements to that strategy. One is diplomacy, second is economic sanctions, and third is a credible threat of force that’s — hovers in the background to compel the Iranians to take seriously the sanctions and the diplomacy. (Applause.)

Now — now, to — to the credit of the president, he has moved from a reliance solely on engagement to endorsing significant, although not yet crippling, sanctions. We’re slow. It’s taking too long. They won’t be comprehensive enough, but most importantly, they’re unlikely to be effective without the third part. ….

Dan Senor: Senator Bayh, is — is that credible threat of force there? The — at — at least the — the projection of it.

Sen. Evan Bayh: I’m not sure it’s there in the minds of the Iranians right now, but it needs to be there. …

So I — I agree entirely with what Rob said, and if you want to just be clear-eyed and realistic about this, we need to go with aggressive sanctions that are likely to hurt the regime, particularly the revolutionary guards. But you — you want to be honest about it, that’s unlikely to work.

The absence in Secretary Clinton’s speech of any sense of urgency, or of a possible Plan C, will be noted by those looking for something more significant than a rhetorical expression of “determination.”

When Hillary Clinton appeared at AIPAC in 2008, she told the conference that one of her guiding principles was a “simple one; no nuclear weapons for Iran.”

Iran simply cannot be allowed to continue its current behavior and I wish to underscore, I believe that we are further behind in constraining Iran today because of the failed policies of President Bush than we would have been had we taken a much more aggressive engagement course earlier. That is why it is imperative that we get both tough and smart about dealing with Iran before it is too late.

The Obama administration has now spent 15 months allowing Iran to continue its “current behavior.” The “tough and smart” engagement has consisted of an endlessly outstretched hand, combined with self-congratulatory statements about how “isolated” the failed engagement has made Iran. Sanctions that no one expects to be “crippling” are months off, and it is not clear what happens after that.

In his own 2008 AIPAC address, Barack Obama said that we had “no time to waste” and promised to use “all elements of American power to pressure Iran.” The key sentence in his prepared text was “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” – a sentence that generated a standing ovation because, in the speech as delivered, Obama repeated the word “everything” three times:

I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weaponeverything. [emphasis added]

Secretary of State Clinton’s speech this morning included a statement that the U.S. is “determined” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but as Jen notes, the speech included no reference to “all options” remaining on the table, much less the promise that Obama previously made, which was that every option will be used if necessary.

At yesterday’s Roundtable on Foreign Policy, there was the following exchange between moderator Dan Senor, Dr. Robert Kagan, and Senator Evan Bayh:

Dan Senor: Rob, there has been an attempt at engagement for — with Iran now for a year. The results speak for themselves. What are President Obama’s policy options for Iran?

Dr. Robert Kagan: Dan, the president came to office, in my estimation, believing that the key problem with Iran was Iran’s isolation, and you solve the isolation problem through engagement. Well, we figured out pretty early on that that was a mis-analysis, that the key problem was that Iran really wants to have a nuclear bomb. And if that’s the problem, then you need a different strategy, and there are three necessary elements to that strategy. One is diplomacy, second is economic sanctions, and third is a credible threat of force that’s — hovers in the background to compel the Iranians to take seriously the sanctions and the diplomacy. (Applause.)

Now — now, to — to the credit of the president, he has moved from a reliance solely on engagement to endorsing significant, although not yet crippling, sanctions. We’re slow. It’s taking too long. They won’t be comprehensive enough, but most importantly, they’re unlikely to be effective without the third part. ….

Dan Senor: Senator Bayh, is — is that credible threat of force there? The — at — at least the — the projection of it.

Sen. Evan Bayh: I’m not sure it’s there in the minds of the Iranians right now, but it needs to be there. …

So I — I agree entirely with what Rob said, and if you want to just be clear-eyed and realistic about this, we need to go with aggressive sanctions that are likely to hurt the regime, particularly the revolutionary guards. But you — you want to be honest about it, that’s unlikely to work.

The absence in Secretary Clinton’s speech of any sense of urgency, or of a possible Plan C, will be noted by those looking for something more significant than a rhetorical expression of “determination.”

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Allies Be Wary

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

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This Would Certainly Be Hope ‘N Change

Robert Kagan calls on Obama to do something important and vital: push for regime change in Iran. He notes that Obama’s engagement folly was premised on the faulty assumption that “a bargain could be had with benighted and virulently anti-Western leaders.” It turns out that the problem was not insufficient humility by the West or George W. Bush. It was the nature of the current Iranian regime, which, if there had been any doubt, has now revealed its true nature in the wake of the June 12 elections. So Kagan argues:

Regime change is more important than any deal the Obama administration might strike with Iran’s present government on its nuclear program. Even if Tehran were to accept the offer made last year to export some of its low-enriched uranium, this would be a modest step down a long, uncertain road. Such a minor concession is not worth abandoning the push for real change.

And Kagan reminds us that regime change is, for a president so entranced with a nuclear-arms-free world, “the best nonproliferation policy. Even if the next Iranian government refused to give up the weapons program, its need for Western economic assistance and its desire for reintegration into the global economy and international order would at least cause it to slow today’s mad rush to completion and be much more open to diplomatic discussion.” But of course it’s also the only realistic approach in sight. Who thinks engagement will bear fruit? (Well, other than J Street.) There is no rationale for continuing the kabuki theater or for insisting on limiting our sanctions to keep the “door open.” (So we can be on the receiving end of more rebuffs and insults?)

But the problem remains: nothing in Obama’s rhetoric or conduct suggests that he grasps this. Kagan delicately puts it this way:

So far, the administration has been slow to shift in response to events in Iran. It has proceeded as if the political upheaval had only marginal significance, and the real prize remains some deal with Tehran. The president has been cautious to a fault.

But in fact Obama has been hostile to the interests of the democracy activists in Iran – not only did he rush to confer diplomatic legitimacy on the regime, but he slashed financial support to the very groups seeking to topple the regime.

Could Obama be enticed, as Kagan describes, by the prospect that “were the Iranian regime to fall on Obama’s watch, however, and were he to play some visible role in helping, his place in history as a transformational world leader would be secure”? Maybe. But Obama seems intoxicated by other, less attainable endeavors, not the least of which is churning round after round of the “peace process.” And if one takes seriously his West Point speech and his 60 Minutes appearance, he really would rather not engage in “triumphalism” or commitments with no predetermined end point. He really wants to go back to reinventing America.

But perhaps there’s where an opening exists. Kagan’s sage advice may have more impact now, in the wake of Obama’s domestic-policy wipeout and the widespread criticism of his first year’s bungle-filled foreign policy. Obama could use an important effort, one that combines both realism and the highest aspirations of America, which would replace his first year’s serial failures (two Copenhagens, the George Mitchell fright show) and cringe-inducing timidity (e.g., the Afghanistan seminars) with a more positive image of Obama as leader of the West. Does he have the foresight and determination to undertake such an about-face? We’ve seen no evidence of it so far. But as he suggested in his ABC interview, if he doesn’t get a second term, he should make the most of the current one.

Robert Kagan calls on Obama to do something important and vital: push for regime change in Iran. He notes that Obama’s engagement folly was premised on the faulty assumption that “a bargain could be had with benighted and virulently anti-Western leaders.” It turns out that the problem was not insufficient humility by the West or George W. Bush. It was the nature of the current Iranian regime, which, if there had been any doubt, has now revealed its true nature in the wake of the June 12 elections. So Kagan argues:

Regime change is more important than any deal the Obama administration might strike with Iran’s present government on its nuclear program. Even if Tehran were to accept the offer made last year to export some of its low-enriched uranium, this would be a modest step down a long, uncertain road. Such a minor concession is not worth abandoning the push for real change.

And Kagan reminds us that regime change is, for a president so entranced with a nuclear-arms-free world, “the best nonproliferation policy. Even if the next Iranian government refused to give up the weapons program, its need for Western economic assistance and its desire for reintegration into the global economy and international order would at least cause it to slow today’s mad rush to completion and be much more open to diplomatic discussion.” But of course it’s also the only realistic approach in sight. Who thinks engagement will bear fruit? (Well, other than J Street.) There is no rationale for continuing the kabuki theater or for insisting on limiting our sanctions to keep the “door open.” (So we can be on the receiving end of more rebuffs and insults?)

But the problem remains: nothing in Obama’s rhetoric or conduct suggests that he grasps this. Kagan delicately puts it this way:

So far, the administration has been slow to shift in response to events in Iran. It has proceeded as if the political upheaval had only marginal significance, and the real prize remains some deal with Tehran. The president has been cautious to a fault.

But in fact Obama has been hostile to the interests of the democracy activists in Iran – not only did he rush to confer diplomatic legitimacy on the regime, but he slashed financial support to the very groups seeking to topple the regime.

Could Obama be enticed, as Kagan describes, by the prospect that “were the Iranian regime to fall on Obama’s watch, however, and were he to play some visible role in helping, his place in history as a transformational world leader would be secure”? Maybe. But Obama seems intoxicated by other, less attainable endeavors, not the least of which is churning round after round of the “peace process.” And if one takes seriously his West Point speech and his 60 Minutes appearance, he really would rather not engage in “triumphalism” or commitments with no predetermined end point. He really wants to go back to reinventing America.

But perhaps there’s where an opening exists. Kagan’s sage advice may have more impact now, in the wake of Obama’s domestic-policy wipeout and the widespread criticism of his first year’s bungle-filled foreign policy. Obama could use an important effort, one that combines both realism and the highest aspirations of America, which would replace his first year’s serial failures (two Copenhagens, the George Mitchell fright show) and cringe-inducing timidity (e.g., the Afghanistan seminars) with a more positive image of Obama as leader of the West. Does he have the foresight and determination to undertake such an about-face? We’ve seen no evidence of it so far. But as he suggested in his ABC interview, if he doesn’t get a second term, he should make the most of the current one.

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He’s Got the World Wrong

There are competing, but not necessarily mutually-exclusive, theories to explain why the Obama approach to foreign policy and national security has been both ineffective and oddly inappropriate to the challenges we face. I have suggested that much of the problem stems from a fervent desire to turn inward and work on a radical domestic agenda. Part of the explanation I have also suggested is traceable to Obama’s temperamental shortcomings, ideological misconceptions about the nature the Islamic jiahdist enemy, and political priorities. Robert Kagan offers a compelling alternative theory — Obama is not the pragmatist he billed himself as, but an idealist who has read the world very wrong. He writes:

The fundamental assumption is that the great powers today share common interests. Relations among them, therefore, “must no longer be seen as a zero-sum game,” as President Obama argued in July 2009. The Obama Doctrine is about “Win-Win” and “getting to Yes.” The new “mission” of the United States, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is to be the great convener of nations, gathering the powers to further common interests and seek common solutions to the world’s problems. It is on this basis that the administration has sought to “reset” relations with Russia, to embark on a new policy of “strategic reassurance” with China, and in general to seek what Secretary Clinton called in a July 15, 2009 speech a “new era of engagement based on common interests, shared values, and mutual respect.” For an administration that prides itself on its pragmatism, there would seem to be a great deal of wishful thinking in this approach.

Conservatives have watched with a mix of awe and revulsion as Obama has again and again smeared his predecessor and crafted policies — often counterproductive, dangerous, and politically unwise — that seem calculated to merely demonstrate that he is “not Bush.” But the “not Bush” fixation also may be part of Obama’s worldview, as Kagan explains:

All that was required was an America wise enough to guide the world toward agreement on the important matters on which all the powers must naturally agree. According to the Obama administration’s narrative, George W. Bush then came along and destroyed this great opportunity with his belligerent and unilateralist policies. Now that Bush was gone, the world could resume its convergence under the inspirational direction of the new American President.

What we do know is that what Obama has been doing hasn’t been working. Kagan comes up with a partial list: “Iran’s refusal to accept the outstretched hand sincerely proffered by President Obama; the breakdown of the Middle East peace process, despite the administration’s strenuous efforts; the failure to gain any meaningful Chinese help in North Korea.” Meanwhile, Obama’s anti-terror policies (which are seemingly designed to downplay the very existence of a war against Islamic fundamentalists, persuade the world of our moral bona fides, and reduce, he imagines, the grievances against the West) are now coming under widespread criticism.

I remain less hopeful than some that Obama can do what is required, that is, “adjust and devise an approach more attuned to the world as it is.” Conservatives have grasped at this or that straw (e.g., reversing the decision to release the detainee abuse photos, the Oslo speech) as evidence that Obama was turning the corner. And certainly the deployment of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, despite the ill-conceived deadline and the ineffective West Point speech, is reason to cheer. But Obama is not a man whose views have been challenged or who has been forced to reconsider that much of what he “knows” simply isn’t so. He has lived within the cocoon of academic elites, liberal doves, and fawning fans, who reinforce his misconceptions about the world. For him to cast all of that aside and reconsider his fundamental assumptions about the world would take quite an act of intellectual courage and political daring. I just don’t see it happening. I hope I am wrong.

There are competing, but not necessarily mutually-exclusive, theories to explain why the Obama approach to foreign policy and national security has been both ineffective and oddly inappropriate to the challenges we face. I have suggested that much of the problem stems from a fervent desire to turn inward and work on a radical domestic agenda. Part of the explanation I have also suggested is traceable to Obama’s temperamental shortcomings, ideological misconceptions about the nature the Islamic jiahdist enemy, and political priorities. Robert Kagan offers a compelling alternative theory — Obama is not the pragmatist he billed himself as, but an idealist who has read the world very wrong. He writes:

The fundamental assumption is that the great powers today share common interests. Relations among them, therefore, “must no longer be seen as a zero-sum game,” as President Obama argued in July 2009. The Obama Doctrine is about “Win-Win” and “getting to Yes.” The new “mission” of the United States, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is to be the great convener of nations, gathering the powers to further common interests and seek common solutions to the world’s problems. It is on this basis that the administration has sought to “reset” relations with Russia, to embark on a new policy of “strategic reassurance” with China, and in general to seek what Secretary Clinton called in a July 15, 2009 speech a “new era of engagement based on common interests, shared values, and mutual respect.” For an administration that prides itself on its pragmatism, there would seem to be a great deal of wishful thinking in this approach.

Conservatives have watched with a mix of awe and revulsion as Obama has again and again smeared his predecessor and crafted policies — often counterproductive, dangerous, and politically unwise — that seem calculated to merely demonstrate that he is “not Bush.” But the “not Bush” fixation also may be part of Obama’s worldview, as Kagan explains:

All that was required was an America wise enough to guide the world toward agreement on the important matters on which all the powers must naturally agree. According to the Obama administration’s narrative, George W. Bush then came along and destroyed this great opportunity with his belligerent and unilateralist policies. Now that Bush was gone, the world could resume its convergence under the inspirational direction of the new American President.

What we do know is that what Obama has been doing hasn’t been working. Kagan comes up with a partial list: “Iran’s refusal to accept the outstretched hand sincerely proffered by President Obama; the breakdown of the Middle East peace process, despite the administration’s strenuous efforts; the failure to gain any meaningful Chinese help in North Korea.” Meanwhile, Obama’s anti-terror policies (which are seemingly designed to downplay the very existence of a war against Islamic fundamentalists, persuade the world of our moral bona fides, and reduce, he imagines, the grievances against the West) are now coming under widespread criticism.

I remain less hopeful than some that Obama can do what is required, that is, “adjust and devise an approach more attuned to the world as it is.” Conservatives have grasped at this or that straw (e.g., reversing the decision to release the detainee abuse photos, the Oslo speech) as evidence that Obama was turning the corner. And certainly the deployment of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, despite the ill-conceived deadline and the ineffective West Point speech, is reason to cheer. But Obama is not a man whose views have been challenged or who has been forced to reconsider that much of what he “knows” simply isn’t so. He has lived within the cocoon of academic elites, liberal doves, and fawning fans, who reinforce his misconceptions about the world. For him to cast all of that aside and reconsider his fundamental assumptions about the world would take quite an act of intellectual courage and political daring. I just don’t see it happening. I hope I am wrong.

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The Obama Administration Pipes Up — Finally

In the wake of the deaths of ten Iranian protesters, the Obama administration has pepped up its rhetoric, declaring via a spokesman:

We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights. Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States. Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo – it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Well, perhaps Sen. John Kerry can stay home now, rather than reward the latest murderers with an unofficial/official visit from the engagement-happy Obami. But one wonders whether this means anything beyond a holiday weekend statement issued by an NSC spokesman. Are we going to do anything — prevail upon Obama’s cherished “international community” to take action against the regime? (This would require a suspension of the UN’s “only Israel is condemned for human rights violations” rule.) Will Obama relent and authorize assistance to previously defunded democracy activists or lend help to their new media efforts, upon which the Obama team previously frowned? Could we hear some talk that a military option remains on the table if the regime persists in pursuing its nuclear program in violation of international agreements?

It seems that in lieu of the farcical engagement policy, a policy of regime change — a serious and concerted effort to assist the protesters when it mattered most — would have been a good idea after all. Then, the NSC’s statements would now ring less hypocritically and might reasonably portend that some action will follow our pretty statements.

In late October, Robert Kagan asked the key question: can Obama play hardball with Iran? We’ve seen no sign he can so far. We can only hope that the tyrannical Islamofascist Iranian regime has finally provoked Obama to do just that.

In the wake of the deaths of ten Iranian protesters, the Obama administration has pepped up its rhetoric, declaring via a spokesman:

We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights. Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States. Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo – it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Well, perhaps Sen. John Kerry can stay home now, rather than reward the latest murderers with an unofficial/official visit from the engagement-happy Obami. But one wonders whether this means anything beyond a holiday weekend statement issued by an NSC spokesman. Are we going to do anything — prevail upon Obama’s cherished “international community” to take action against the regime? (This would require a suspension of the UN’s “only Israel is condemned for human rights violations” rule.) Will Obama relent and authorize assistance to previously defunded democracy activists or lend help to their new media efforts, upon which the Obama team previously frowned? Could we hear some talk that a military option remains on the table if the regime persists in pursuing its nuclear program in violation of international agreements?

It seems that in lieu of the farcical engagement policy, a policy of regime change — a serious and concerted effort to assist the protesters when it mattered most — would have been a good idea after all. Then, the NSC’s statements would now ring less hypocritically and might reasonably portend that some action will follow our pretty statements.

In late October, Robert Kagan asked the key question: can Obama play hardball with Iran? We’ve seen no sign he can so far. We can only hope that the tyrannical Islamofascist Iranian regime has finally provoked Obama to do just that.

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A Debtor’s Strategy?

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

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The League of Democracies

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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Europe and The Swiss

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980′s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990′s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980′s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990′s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

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Socialism on the March

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

“Ideology matters again,” Robert Kagan writes in today’s Washington Post. “Autocracy is making a comeback.” The influential analyst focused on China and Russia this morning, but the big news this week from the world of authoritarianism comes from Latin America.

Yesterday, President Evo Morales of Bolivia nationalized Entel, the country’s largest telecommunications company and, at least until a few hours ago, a part of Telecom Italia. Morales has been attempting to take over Entel for about a year. He has been blocking attempts to have the matter settled by international arbitrators.

The nationalization by decree comes on the same day that Bolivia announced that it was acquiring controlling stakes in four energy companies. One of the acquisitions is through agreement with Spain’s Repsol, and the others were implemented by decree. The decrees affected British, German, Peruvian, and Cayman Islands firms. Bolivia claims that none of the four sales was forced. Two years ago, Morales announced that he wanted to nationalize the energy sector.

Morales was following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. On Wednesday, the overstuffed Venezuelan ordered the expropriation of his country’s largest steelmaker, Siderurgica del Orinoco, from an Argentine-Italian group. This action follows Chavez’s moves to take over businesses in important sectors such as telecommunications, electric power, oil, and cement.

At this moment, the Latin American nationalizations are pinpricks. Yet it’s not too early for the West to begin thinking about how to counter assaults on free-markets—and how to work together to defend the concept of private property in a global economy. As Kagan notes, ideologies hostile to us are on the march.

And what are we doing? The West is not good at defending its private businesses. Many of these authoritarian states sustain themselves through their access to foreign investment and trade with the very nations whose property they take. Yet we are doing virtually nothing in response. Ideologues are declaring economic warfare against us, and the least we can do is return the favor.

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Some Things Never Change . . .

Death, taxes, and The Nation‘s desire to further the interests of Russian autocrats, to name but a few. The magazine’s lead editorial this week is a thing to behold. Entitled “Neocon NATO Delusions,” it purports to tell the story of how

many neoconservative and neoliberal hawks, including presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, see Bush’s globalized NATO as the forerunner of a concert of democracies that will replace the UN.

The Nation is purportedly a progressive magazine. Yet it stands opposed to an emergent “concert of democracies.” Why on earth? Because this “globalized NATO” threatens to “encircl[e] Russia and sidelin[e] the United Nations.”

Sound familiar? Russia’s argument against NATO expansion runs along the same lines. But this is hardly the first time the magazine has made Vladimir Putin’s case for him. In a recent essay, contributing editor Robert Dreyfuss complained about John McCain’s calls for an “expanded NATO that will bump up against Russian interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Strange that such a stridently progressive magazine would sympathize with a government that kills journalists and imprisons dissidents. (Or a political figure like Putin, who has enjoyed for the most part unmixed support from George W. Bush.)

In an excellent essay in the current New Republic, Robert Kagan lays out how “autocracy is making a comeback.” Rather than working through international organizations like the United Nations, Russia (and China) are using them to delay international action on issues including the ongoing genocide in Darfur, the humanitarian catastrophe in Zimbabwe, the repression in Burma, and sanctioning Iran. And Putin has personally decried liberal groups (like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) as “vulgar institutions.”

In an uncertain world, though, it’s nice to know that some things never change: The Nation is still a collection of useful idiots serving the cause of tyranny.

Death, taxes, and The Nation‘s desire to further the interests of Russian autocrats, to name but a few. The magazine’s lead editorial this week is a thing to behold. Entitled “Neocon NATO Delusions,” it purports to tell the story of how

many neoconservative and neoliberal hawks, including presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, see Bush’s globalized NATO as the forerunner of a concert of democracies that will replace the UN.

The Nation is purportedly a progressive magazine. Yet it stands opposed to an emergent “concert of democracies.” Why on earth? Because this “globalized NATO” threatens to “encircl[e] Russia and sidelin[e] the United Nations.”

Sound familiar? Russia’s argument against NATO expansion runs along the same lines. But this is hardly the first time the magazine has made Vladimir Putin’s case for him. In a recent essay, contributing editor Robert Dreyfuss complained about John McCain’s calls for an “expanded NATO that will bump up against Russian interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Strange that such a stridently progressive magazine would sympathize with a government that kills journalists and imprisons dissidents. (Or a political figure like Putin, who has enjoyed for the most part unmixed support from George W. Bush.)

In an excellent essay in the current New Republic, Robert Kagan lays out how “autocracy is making a comeback.” Rather than working through international organizations like the United Nations, Russia (and China) are using them to delay international action on issues including the ongoing genocide in Darfur, the humanitarian catastrophe in Zimbabwe, the repression in Burma, and sanctioning Iran. And Putin has personally decried liberal groups (like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) as “vulgar institutions.”

In an uncertain world, though, it’s nice to know that some things never change: The Nation is still a collection of useful idiots serving the cause of tyranny.

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The Artificial Neocon

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

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Waiting

On primary days, unlike primary evenings, the political news pickings are slight. Robert Kagan weighs in here on the politics of the surge and Mitt Romney’s calculated language last year when the new policy was at risk. Stephen Hayes reaches the same conclusion I do on the flap about Justice Alito. Otherwise, the lack of heated Democratic responses to the State of the Union is a telling sign–there was not much there, there and even less new there. The last year of the Bush presidency appears to be guided by the Hippocratic Oath: do no harm. If President Bush can block any tax increases, prevent Democratic interference with Iraq policy, and maintain a measure of fiscal discipline, then conservatives and the potential Republican presidential nominees will no doubt be pleased.
On primary days, unlike primary evenings, the political news pickings are slight. Robert Kagan weighs in here on the politics of the surge and Mitt Romney’s calculated language last year when the new policy was at risk. Stephen Hayes reaches the same conclusion I do on the flap about Justice Alito. Otherwise, the lack of heated Democratic responses to the State of the Union is a telling sign–there was not much there, there and even less new there. The last year of the Bush presidency appears to be guided by the Hippocratic Oath: do no harm. If President Bush can block any tax increases, prevent Democratic interference with Iraq policy, and maintain a measure of fiscal discipline, then conservatives and the potential Republican presidential nominees will no doubt be pleased.

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