Putting Lilypads On eBay

Biden’s much awaited remarks on U.S. foreign policy at the Munich Security Conference get perfunctory tap applause. One supposes it can’t hurt to repeat Obama will hit the policy ‘reset button.’

Kristol’s complaint that the U.S. presented no new over arching, intoxicating strategic vision is peevish. A new administration can’t be expected to establish more than atmospherics at this juncture. Kristol surprisingly isn’t gushing how much Bush speak remained in Biden’s debut — including Velvet enthusiasms.

She Told To Walk This Way, Talk This Way

Still, realities intrude. Many are lamenting that a rapprochement with Russia is not on the table. Moscow inadvertently may be doing the U.S. a favor in closing the main U.S. ‘lillypad’ in Krygyzstan crucial for current Afghan military operations — let alone future augmentation. First, it’s a sobering reminder that re-starting a game in co-op mode is not a unilateral decision. Second, Moscow’s action presents a clear moment to rank U.S. strategic priorities — a necessary discipline. To wit:

(a) Russian bi-lateral policy;
(b) American presence in Central Asia/Russian Near Abroad;
(c) the strategic viability of protracted operations, nay, nation building in the Kush;
(d) NATO’s future (Moscow’s calculations are all the more shrewd because it is obvious NATO is unwilling to support an American military surge);
(e) Pakistan; and
(f) Iran

Russia is essential for (f) and a key enabler for (b) and (c). America lacks the power to address these without Moscow. Trading away the absurdly totemistic BMD in Poland and Czecho would be small change for concessions. Besides, the Poles and Czechs want Americans on the ground to die in the event of Russian revanchism – whether they guard boondoggle telephone poles in the ground is beside the point. Think Obama pulling a Kennedy with the non quid pro quo fig leaf of the Turkish Thor missiles. He’d even love the comparison except for the Carolyn thing.

Now consider Afghanistan. Has the U.S. really thought through Obama’s enthusiasm for escalation? Let’s concede Dominique de Villepin is an ass. And his antics in 2002/2003 rooted in the worst of motivations. But did not the essential point of pleading with Bush to stand down remain? The Russians remember the 40th Army. NATO isn’t signing up. Karzai is the mayor of 1/2 of Kabul. If the ‘Stans and Russians see the ineptitude in Iraq and want no part of an American mess on their borders one can’t blame them. Gates can talk down goals still more but what is Obama’s exit strategy?

Finally, NATO’s irrelevancy is a stark truth. The old formulation was to keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Russians out. NATO is an anachronism. It’s not going to carry a burden in Afghanistan no matter what Obama may plead. As we’ve said before, it’s also an absurdity to think the U.S. would, could or should go to war for Tbilisi or the Vistula.

There’s no need to call the Emperor buck. Allow NATO to wind down with inertia. End the unnecessarily provocative and strategically unsustainable Velvet expansions with lip service if necessary. This reset would advance real U.S. interests. Biden could even continue to mouth that the U.S. does not recognize ‘spheres of interest’.

We submit that Pakistan and Iran are the two most pressing American strategic challenges. Afghanistan is of course Pakistan’s strategic depth contra India and thus linked. Moscow’s recent actions and a truly meaningful re-think of American priorities give the U.S. a chance to realize the real stakes involved. The pot is worth an ante of malfunctioning missiles, an X band radar, followed by a later raise with quiet burial for things Velvet over-extension.

Who knows? It may even save Obama from his own Da Nang.