Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Policy’

reset_buttonThe famed Russian reset, the defining foreign policy victory of the Administration, is dead. I’m shocked, shocked!

Why did such a thing happen?

Because the Russians have played the ‘reset’ out for all it’s worth (to them, anyway). They’re now staking out/probing regarding positions to take for either a new American president, or are pondering throwing more sand in the Vaseline of the security/diplomacy machinery of the administration, should President Obama win a second term.

In a market environment, the buyer gives up something (money, usually) for item(s) he wants at a price he’s willing to pay. Similarly, the seller sells at a price he’s willing to sell at. Everyone wins.

In a nation-state environment, win-win is not nearly so prevalent, perhaps because things are less transaction oriented and more promise oriented.

In fact, in the case of the Russian reset, the events (a New START treaty significantly skewed in Russia’s favor, promises of Russian support for Iranian sanctions, and promises of sustained U.S./NATO access to Afghanistan) were wins for Russia that provided benefits (cash, power, and prestige) and cost them literally nothing. The outcomes of the “reset” to the U.S. were temporary and mild benefits at best and a permanent and perhaps profound weakening at worst.

The lesson is that Russia is in it for Russia (or maybe better said, Russia’s leaders are in it for themselves). What’s so hard to understand about that truth?


top ten redAs we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the journalistic drumbeat will build to a deafening crescendo.  While much of this will be mere traditional lookbacks, there will be plenty of contrarian and ‘what-if’ retrospectives as well.  One is an article at Foreign Policy, The Black Hole of 9/11, which can be characterized as… not good.

While the 9/11 attacks were an American event, the article asserts there are “10 [worldwide] events from the past decade that have actually been more important” than 9/11. 

As with much analysis, defining terms is a bit of an issue.  That is, just what constitutes an “event”? 

Regardless, they are declared to be the following:

10. The American Response to 9/11.  My take: this is a nearly decade-long “event.”  And while I agree it is more important than 9/11 itself (given the gigantic time and treasure commitments taken on as a result of 9/11), does an event really take a decade?  That’s like saying the Beatles or the Cold War were “events.”

9. The Arab Spring.  My take: does the author think the Arab Sprig would have happened without 9/11, the Iraqi war, and the subsequent freedoms gained by the Iraqi people?

8. The Rebalancing of Asia.  My take: again, this is an event that has unfolded over a long(ish)– decade-plus — period of time.  And it would be far better stated as “The Debalancing of Asia.”

7. The Stagnation of the U.S. and Other Developed-World Economies.  My take: said stagnation was a slow-moving, multi-decade, man-made disaster that made Titanic look well-paced.

6. The Invention of Social Media.  My take: wake up, McFly.  Groan.

5. The Proliferation of Cell Phones and Hand-Held Computing Devices.  My take: this pales in comparison to the world-wide proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

4. The Crash of 2008.  My take: profoundly important; most damage happened over a short(ish) flash-crash period; huge social-welfare state implications.

3. The Eurozone Crisis and the Crash of 2011-2012.  My take: another multi-year “event,” eh?

2. The Failure to Address Global Warming.  My take: 1) Google “Roy Spencer+Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer+NASA+Aqua satellite,” 2) read some of the results.

1. The Rise of China and the Other BRICs.  My take: the rise of China part I can agree with because of their military and economic power.  India as well, but at a lower level than China.  Brazil and Russia?  Not nearly so much (but without them, you lack an acronym).

The author’s major shortcoming was trying to come up with ten “events,” consistent with the decadal theme.  However, the list of ten then needed to be made so broad as to fail to measure up as singular “events” that might (arguably) outdistance 9/11 on the importance meter.  As such, the article doesn’t work, but that’s OK: the likely idea is to generate buzz, page views, and sell books and not to make (let alone win) an argument.

walt says soSteven Walt writes at Foreign Policy, a part of the Washington Post–Slate- Big Money–Roots-Foreign Policy media conglomerate.  Sometimes Walt has interesting and thoughtful things to say; his byline tells us he is “A realist in an ideological age.”  So while we can tell what Walt thinks of himself, the Johari window model tells us there’s a quadrant of the persona which is seen by others but which is not self-recognized; it’s more commonly called a blind spot.  And the bad news is Walt has been spending too much quality time in that particular quadrant.

The evidence is Walt’s blog post Fear, Incorporated: Who’s paying for all that Islamophobic paranoia?

One of the distinctive features of American democracy is the permeability of our political institutions. It’s an incredibly wide-open system, given First Amendment freedoms, the flood of money that corrupts the electoral process, and a wide array of media organizations and political journals that can be used to disseminate and amplify various views, even when they have no basis in fact.

This situation allows small groups of people to have a profound impact on public attitudes and policy discourse, provided that they are well-organized, well-funded, and stay on message. And if you don’t believe me, then take a look at the Center for American Progress’s new report [on Islamophobia]…

I did take a look at the report and by the time you get to the document’s page 5, you’ll see its mere political hackery/sophistry; a bald-faced attempt to discredit the “usual suspects” who don’t agree with the good-and-wise Walt endorsed point of view.  So, as it is, Walt the realist really hearts the Center for American Progress’ report.  The CAP’s motto is “Progressive ideas for a strong, just, and free America.”  I suppose that’s what passes for non-ideological but if you oppose the CAP and its ideas, do you (by their definition) favor a weak, unjust, and enslaved America?

The CAP is, of course, a liberal think tank.  And what does the new CAP report (breathlessly described by the resident realist/non-ideologue as “a remarkable piece of investigative work”) offer?  That the ideologues/non-realists/usual suspects are creating “Islamophobia.”  Walt’s blog conclusion, perhaps based on the CAP press release, is this:

…what we are really facing is a well-funded right-wing collaboration to scare the American people with a bogeyman of their own creation, largely to justify more ill-advised policies in the Middle East.

Well-funded compared to…what?  To the Des Moines symphony?  To ViaCom (Viacom, Paramount Pictures, MTV Films, Nickelodeon Movies, Comedy Central, BET, Spike, TV Land, Nick@Nite, Nickelodeon, TeenNick, Nick Jr., MTV, VH1, MTV2, CMT, et al)?  To Disney (Disney, ESPN, ABC, Pixar, Marvel, et al)?  To General Electric (NBC, MSNBC, NBCUniversal, The Weather Channel, et al)?  To the Center for American Progress and their sponsors?  To the schools where Walt is employed and their sponsors/donors?  Could the corrupting “flood of money” from a “wide array of media organizations and political journals” come from any of the above?

Somehow, methinks the dude protests too much.

Walt, kettle; kettle, Walt.

Read more about the Center for American Progress here.


Defense cuts are going to happen so the real issue becomes one of “Which programs, which years, how much, and how fast?”  Although the plan-program-budget-spend process is continual and ongoing, large bureaucratic organizations like DoD possess a particularly poor ability to respond to rapid change. Will the budget cutters will bear this in mind?

The traditional defense cut model has been this: study with an electron-microscope; measure with a micrometer; mark with a grease pencil; cut with an ax.  The first three steps are largely overcome by events (or at minimum, significantly compressed) based on the recent debt ceiling agreement, so we’re effectively down to the cut with an ax step; hopefully the ax will at least be sharpened.  As a wise man once said, “You can have it right, you can have it fast, or you can have it pretty: pick two.”

The article Think Before You Cut, with its “ten simple rules” to slash the DoD budget “without endangering U.S. national security” has kind of a pop culture log-line ring to it, similar to rules for dating my daughter, seven brides for seven brothers, or one is the loneliest number.  Feel free to read it at your leisure, or should you choose, take the shortcut and just read on.

Regardless, ten is too many rules to have (even if that guidance was violated with last year’s Nine Seismic Shifts To Improve The Department of Defense).  The human mind is better at remembering things in a group of five (plus or minus two).  So how about four simple guides for defense cutters?

First, what are the national security outcomes we are looking to achieve?  Without understandable, measureable, and achievable outcomes, DoD has the “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path may take you there” (or per Buckaroo Banzai, “Wherever you go, there you are”) problem.

Second, budget cutters need to understand their own biases, intellectual shortcuts, experiential gaps, and unexamined assumptions.  Knowledge is good and wisdom is better; self-awareness is essential.

Third, how much risk are the cutters willing to assume?  The greater the risk they’re willing to assume, the greater the cuts that can be laid in.  But the risk has to be understandable and should be measurable (or at least describable).

Finally, budget cutters need to tell DoD what to stop doing.  Budget cuts should be explicitly linked to mission cuts, that is, clearly articulated and quantified things that DoD will stop doing/slow down on including diminished humanitarian relief, reduced flying hours, reduced deployments, less training, travel restrictions, and declining mission-ready rates.  The tendency in boilerplate national security documents is to say we’ll do everything and when the cuts come in, to ‘spread’ them across the board.  Conversely, when new missions are added, they come in the form of supplemental budgets rather than being included in a baseline.  In an era of massive budget cuts, good judgment will takes the form of funding-it-or-killing-it.  

People (military, civilians, and contractors) are paid to perform military missions, build tanks, ships and airplanes, travel, sustain equipment and infrastructure, launch rockets, make charts, and more.  And at the end of the day, defense cuts will be all about cutting people. 

The Russian reset, the crowning glory of the administration’s foreign policy, seems to be fading like a cut flower.  Evidence?

In an interview Friday that was timed to the third anniversary of Russia’s war with Georgia, President Dmitri A. Medvedev said top United States officials played a key role in events that touched off the war, and offered a withering assessment of a recent Senate resolution on Georgia’s behalf, which he said reflected “the personal tastes of certain elderly members of the Senate.”


Mr. Medvedev dismissed as “pure provocative nonsense” the notion that a Russian military intelligence officer was linked to an explosion outside the American Embassy in Tbilisi, a charge that was tentatively corroborated by a United States intelligence assessment that was described to reporters last week.

Then there’s this:

"The very fact of deploying U.S. military missile defense infrastructure in the Northern seas is a real provocation with regard to the process of nuclear disarmament", said [Russia’s ambassador to NATO Dmitry] Rogozin at a press conference.

As well as Vladimir Putin’s statement that the U.S. is a ‘parasite’ to the world’s economic well being.

There’s lots more, of course, so is this a crumbling reset?  New normal?  Same as it ever was?

yoda gets his jam onRobert Haddick at Foreign Policy says SecDef Don Rumsfeld (the evil Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars), was more influential, policy-wise, than Robert Gates (the Yoda-like and popular successor).  The money quote:

If the battle is over management style, Gates wins in a knockout. But events, combined with experience gained through trial-and-error, have given the ultimate victory to Rumsfeld’s military doctrine.

Actually, Gates won in a knockout regardless.  In this case, pragmatic beat dogmatic.

Part of it was circumstance (Gates was favored by comparison in following the most despised SecDef since Robert McNamara), part of it was good fortune (being in place when the surge achieved success); part of it was politics (carrying the defense water as a moderate Republican in a Democrat’s administration).  This part of the article shows the desire for a man-bites-dog story in the media can be a powerful thing.

The crux is that Rumsfeld was transformation focused, having the Army, for example move from a division-level focus to a brigade-level focus.  The Army was big, slow, powerful, and bureaucratic.  The change we can see today is that it isn’t quite as big, slow, or powerful.  After all, Rumsfeld got the Army’s leviathan Crusader artillery system cancelled.

OK, OK, but can we say Gates was transformation focused as well?  I mean Gates was at the front of an expected military evolution versus a Rumsfeld-driven revolution in military affairs.  Air Force-centric examples include the SecAF and Chief of Staff being relieved by Gates for the nuclear enterprise debacle (those two refusing to shut up about the number of F-22s the USAF needed had to be part of the calculus as well) and the emphasis on UAVs.

The problem with the Rumsfeld Doctrine (once we’ve gone in and busted stuff up and dispersed the adversary’s military force) is a profound one: what’s next?  It remains a problem.  It will be a problem in perpetuity.

Now, at least a generation of military leadership has been profoundly shaped by lower-intensity conflict, one that institutionally values deployments even as global-level problems that are more likely to affect our national survival have largely worsened.  Beyond the economy, these include nuclear and missile proliferation from Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea which are growing and huge concerns, as is the military build-up of China which affects huge parts of the Pacific. 

Now, with defense budget cuts looming and a hollow-force being openly discussed, do you think Rumsfeld’s transformations will bear much fruit?  Chances are that personnel accounts will be first raided followed quickly by the investment accounts which are essential to transformation. 

I’m sure Gates learned much from Rumsfeld, including what not to do along with which ideas to embrace and nurture.  Rumsfeld generally wanted cheaper, faster, smaller, better and like most of the boilerplate we see in policy (and doctrine and “strategy”), how can you argue against inherent goodness?

Early on, Rumsfeld’s basic intellectual position seemed to be that which was held by much of the military in the Clinton years: we aren’t good at nation-building; we can’t afford to nation-build; don’t nation-build.  That was conventional wisdom fifteen years ago and it’s become conventional wisdom once again.  When we didn’t have the forces in place to nation-build/secure Iraq, things went south.

The lesson: sometimes conventional wisdom has it right.

Later in the article, the author shifts to the issue of proposed foreign military sales (F-16s to Taiwan) and offers:

What Taiwan needs instead is to mimic mainland China’s missile program. Mobile launchers, which unlike airfields could evade detection and targeting, could support both battlefield and strategic missiles that could hold targets on the mainland at risk. Such a program could do a better job of restoring a military balance across the Taiwan Strait than would fixed-wing aircraft operating from vulnerable bases.


But Taiwan’s struggle to adapt to the immense missile threat from the mainland — over a thousand ballistic missiles are now aimed at Taiwan and a hundred more are added every year — also applies to U.S. military strategy in the region. United States military plans can no more rely on fixed bases and concentrated surface naval forces than Taiwan can. In the meantime, Taiwan could use some missile engineers instead of more F-16s.

Here, the author nails it (although he could have mentioned missile defense).  Once again, it is a simple case of the trend towards future military conflict being largely unmanned.  At what point in this century does the manned warplane become the horse-mounted cavalry of the last?

The President has a lot of discretion, but there are limits.

At least that seems to be the point made in the FP article Giving Away The Farm.

Authors James Woolsey and Rebeccah Heinrichs suggest the President’s arms controllers—who would be operating under his direction—may have pledged something beyond a simple change to the nuclear weapons count.  They wonder out loud if part of the enticement to the Russians to get them to commit to New START may have been to promise to share sensitive U.S. technologies, methods, information, and even operational control on missile defense.

Offered as plausible speculation is the President’s threat to veto the defense budget over Congressional language which “requires that no funds can be used to provide the Russian Federation with sensitive U.S. missile defense technology.”

You might think that the House doesn’t need to insert such language, but there it is.  The language is included perhaps because the negotiating records/audit trail that supported New START has not (to my knowledge) been released to the Congress.  As such, concerns remain and the restrictive language is part of the draft legislation.

By the way, why would the President threaten to veto the bill over what’s really pretty benign (and which should be unnecessary) language which restricts the Russians from getting our expensive, important, and sensitive missile defense products?

If the authors are correct, this would all also seem to serve as a confirmation that (contrary to some of the nutbags posting in the comments to the article) missile defense works and that it presents a significant Russian national security concern.