Foreign Policy

2014 And Limits Of New Romanticism

2014 And The New Romantics

We’re witnessing another New Romantic historical moment end. We see it wind down in domestic American politics, including L’Affaire Snowden. And in Kiev’s Streets. We turn our gaze from Syrian killing fields. Spontaneous, unorganized mass sentiment failed to create real change anywhere.

1848 Europe’s revolutionary, democratic moment and its lessons come to mind. Europe saw its widest ever democratic revolutionary wave quickly collapse into a Continental reactionary resurgence. Historical analogies should always be suspect, especially here. Yet, we can’t help but ask, “What comes next, now?”


The New Romantics Aren’t A Pop Group

Our last 15 years constitute a Romantic Moment. First it flourished with the Colored Revolutions’ early promise. Even elements of Americans’ manipulated arc in Iraq and Afghanistan floated on misguided sentiment. Mass sentiment erupted in Tehran, ignited the Arab Spring, Syria, rock both Thailand and now Ukraine, again. Obama’s improbable 2008 presidency and aftermath are part of the tableau, too.

More

Europe, Russia & Ukraine: Stumbling Waltz

Europe, Russia & Ukraine: Stumbling Waltz

Ukraine, much in the news, is essentially a failed (failing?) state. Yet everyone wants to have a dance with her. Who will be on the card?

The EU still seeks an association agreement after Ukrainian President Yanukovich’s last minute rejection at the altar. He faced severe Russian coercion and is inherently pre-disposed to Moscow and Putin’s neo-Soviet “Customs Union”. After pro-EU riots broke out in Kiev, the Russians declared it all pre-planned foreign manipulation.

Ukraine’s economy is a wreck. Its contraction during the 2008-09 global economic crisis the highest percent in the world. Its leading export is commodity steel. Yanukovich’s government has no love for economic reforms as demanded by the IMF as a precondition to financial support. Ukraine’s government is almost as dysfunctional as Washington. Yanukovich’s political position in parliament hangs by a thread. Demographically, Ukraine is also a quasi-basket case.

More

NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

One of NSA Director Keith Alexander’s cruelest feats? Forcing some of his fiercest critics (us) again to defend American self-interest and the role and purpose of intelligence. Despite NSA’s (and the Community’s) wanton, flagrant contempt for both. If Neocons were America’s malignant Id at her moment of apogee, then as Nemesis follows Hubris, they ushered in her over soon decline. NSA and the Community, engorged on national security self-entitlement, scuttled behind as ever-present shadow.

We get no pleasure writing that. Nor seeing so much needless and perhaps irretrievable ruin in Snowden’s aftermath. Much of it gleefully celebrated by those who care nothing for American interests, privacy or otherwise. It takes a big man to bring down an epoch in American and global history, they say. So why are Alexander and Snowden perfectly, coevally so small?

Crushed Like A Spent Can Of Diet Coke

The seemingly ancient preceding post here about Obama’s first NSA-focused press conference reads quaintly now. We see in stark relief the cost of this Administration’s (typical) passivity. That’s not to excuse or diminish NSA’s stunning, profoundly stupid (and so totally unnecessary) transgressive acts. But we all should be clear about one distinction – intolerance for NSA’s transgressions is not embracing others’ attempt to exploit political fallout to see America diminished.

More

Death Of An Ambassador – The U.S. In A Ring Of Fire

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues’ deaths in Libya and Egyptians storming embassy walls underscore the Arab Spring was always the Arab Decade. Both events also should give further pause to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) sentimentalists blithely calling for military action against Assad.

Middle East, Libya, Egypt, Chris Stevens

Focus On Each Country And Its Politics

Contrary to many media outlets, we’re not convinced the infamous anti-Mohammed YouTube video proximately caused the deaths and riots. We believe local politics and intrigues played the key roles and the video used as an excuse or cover; blaming a video helps create an easily understandable overarching explanatory narrative. Comforting but unhelpful.

For example, in Cairo a handful of long-standing militant Islamists protesting outside of the embassy for months took advantage of momentary confusion to climb the embassy walls and plant their black flag. The next day, the Egyptian government eventually restored order. That delay raises worrying signals about the new Egyptian government’s intent.

In Benghazi it increasingly looks like an armed faction opposed to liberal democratic process pre-planned a coordinated guerrilla assault with mortars, RPGs and artillery fire. That now famous YouTube video clip mocking Mohammed at most served as cover and distraction. Attackers knew routines and consulate layout. Contrary to Neocon claims Libyans dragged deceased Americans through the streets, U.S. officials report 10 Libyans died defending the consulate and others hand carried the U.S victims to the hospital.

If you’re reminded of Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s assassination in Iraq, the purposes are not too dissimilar. U.S. resolve is certainly being tested. We support engagement in Libya yet believe the American people – for many reasons – have not been told the time and commitment and risk of non-engagement.

Questions about Libya carry over to Syria, too. As we noted above, Syria is a separate ethnic, economic and political mosaic. Even if force of arms ala Libya could be made politically viable, operationally it’s no Libya as you know Dear Reader – logistically and militarily. “Assad must go”. Even more than Libya, and then what?

As we said at the outset, the Arab Spring is really the Arab Decade. Each nation will take that long to work out its political institutions and new traditions – and likely will arrive at different answers.

Romney’s Lehman Moment?

Not much needs to be said here about Romney’s bizarre partisan public responses. You’ve seen the coverage. Craven? Irresponsible? Sure. But that’s been his M.O. during the primaries and to date on a variety of issues. When expediency is one’s polestar, one can’t expect honoring the tradition of bi-partisanship in the face of national tragedy.

That’s what John Galt would do.

Walt’s Top Ten Things To Prepare For Foreign Policy: A Missed Opportunity

Stephen Walt’s school season trend piece, Top 10 Things Would Be Foreign Policy Wonks Should Study (notice the meme-friendly Top 10ism) deserves a Gentleman’s C+/B-.

His list is safe. History? Check. Economics? And so on. Granted, Walt’s list is click bait for Volvo Moms and Dads driving Little Ones to a dorm for the first time. Walt still demonstrates after 2001-2011 that Realists aren’t about cadre-building or meme promotion.

Area Studies As Key For Foreign Policy

To be blunt, the American foreign policy field suffers from an acute and growing shortage of area specialists. At both undergraduate and graduate levels area studies sink further into eclipse. Abstraction permeates as ‘terrorism’ studies, ‘national security studies’ and yes, ‘foreign policy’ – even when seemingly rigorous with phony statistical analysis. Former Neocon militant romanticisms are temporarily quiescent. Yet their replacement as a dominant academic trend, for example, is the equally disassociated development theory. Area studies’ eclipse is particularly stark post-graduate.

Area studies’ empirical, granular focus on the specific was and remains the antidote for Neocon manipulated simplicities. One reason Neocons are so hostile to native language speakers, specific histories and facts in context. Indeed, to understand the Neocon war on what once was CIA (Soviets before, ‘terrorism’ 2001-2007) or the Foreign Service is to discover this truth.

Area studies is a relatively new concept in American foreign policy and academic thinking. For decades after WW II, American foreign policy cadres evolved from Euro-centric and British-derived experiences. Even Kissinger’s at-the-time novel Metternichian formulations a variation.

Area Studies, Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy

America began to invest in area studies really only beginning in the 1960s. Too late to impact the tragedy in Southeast Asia. Area studies briefly flourished. Even so, Americans prefer to substitute technology for area studies’ tedious discipline. Before it was FBIS (Foreign Broadcast Intercept Service), now it’s automated computer translation. George Schultz was probably the only Secretary of State to support and promote unreservedly area studies (given his Princeton and Stanford experiences).

The results? You know what happened in 2003-06. And later with Afghanistan, COIN and the bogus 3 Cups of Tea, for example.

Specific Quibbles With Walt’s List

Regarding Walt’s list, learning a foreign language is good discipline. Like playing a musical instrument. Languages develop memory and neural pathways. And any language creates linkages with another culture. As to which language? The romance languages are easiest but also least useful. Some languages are strategic and others aren’t.

Similarly, history without focus has little value. Unconnected with language and other studies, it’s utility for foreign policy is hit or miss. History does inculcate respect for facts. Yet, again, some history yields more returns than others. The last thing a job applicant and the Nation need is another forced march through McNeil’s “Rise of the West”.

‘Economics’ similarly on its own has only tenuous connection to foreign policy, empiricism or professional advancement. We agree that most foreign policy ‘wonks’ understand economics like a GOSPLAN apparatchik. So some quant work good training.

The key is again to seek comparative studies. To recognize that other non-Western prisms are effective, such as the initial and widely copied 1955-1989 Japanese phenomenon, the Soviet (for a time) and current German managed export-led growth.

Economics as taught in American schools is ideology cloaked by the trappings of rigorous empiricism. Aside from quant training, economics’ true value is placing Anglo-American ideology-cum-’science’ in perspective with other regions. One can then grasp the global implications. Comparative economics will reveal how others have succeeded in overtaking the American/British ideological fixations. So yes, learn macro and micro theory. It’s useful as a beginning. But to be useful for realism or foreign policy? More.

Conclusion

We understand Walt’s list was a toss off and possible troll bait. A conversation would likely develop quickly into nuance.

Similarly, our emphasis on area studies is perhaps addressed best at the post-graduate level. But our central point remains: a French-speaking (say Foreign Service level 2), European history major with a smattering of pareto-efficient economics and ‘counter-terrorism’ studies does little to advance their career, realism or what the Nation needs.

Freshmen and parents, listen to us. There’s always time in life to become generalists. The best ones have tactile and specific training.

Too harsh?

Obama Tries To Weave A Strategic Narrative: But Did He Check The Feng Shui?

Listening to the chattering classes, a paramount challenge for U.S. strategy is ‘the lack of a narrative.’ What is to go after ‘Once upon a time . . .’?

Obama tries his hand declaring by fiat ‘we have turned the page’ from whatever 2001-2011 was. (Report here). Apparently, winding down two land wars allowed him to glimpse the U.S. would seek agility with inevitable force re-sizing. Who knew? Conveniently forgotten is that DoD now has more contractors in *Afghanistan* than uniformed personnel anyway.

At its core the Stiftung finds the report, well, Goldilocks. Compared to competing camps and their ‘narratives’. Its cardinal achievement? To begin re-focusing institutional U.S. geostrategic fixation on Europe and re-align it to the Pacific Rim, alas 20 years too late.

U.S. Shifts Strategic Focus To China

This PR exercise is also less than it seems. Most of the hard questions about mission re-definement made real through procurement? Punted. A defense budget and alleged cuts, etc. are always gamed not what they seem. Obama claims he will start cutting $480 billion over the next ten years. First, reductions in future rates of growth are not reductions at all. Second, given the (malfunctioning) annual budget authorization and appropriations process, projecting beyond 3 years is to party with Charlie Sheen. The Stiftung has long-supported a two-year budget appropriation cycle but people on the Hill prefer the one year approach for narrow self-interested political reasons.

A Few Trillion And Soon You’re Talking Real Chinese Tax Payer Money

The current Obama FY defense budget is over $708 billion. That is over double the FY 2001 outlay of $316 billion. (And for those counting, pure top line defense industry profit – the net of the net profit in 2011 was over $25 billion according to SEC filings. That is a 400% increase since 2001).

Let’s put everything in context: the U.S. since 2001 spent $ 4trillion on defense *and* a further $1.4 trillion fighting actual wars. The latter costs were kept ‘off budget’ in so-called ‘emergency’ war supplementals. (Don’t blame just Cheney, et al, a Democratic Senate went along). Remember that when you see frowns about ‘dangerous’ cuts, etc.

Substantively, the apparent fantasy is that U.S. power projection will be light and fast, with drones, JSOC and CONUS-based kinetic strike. The need for littoral heavy footprints and consequent force protection and SLOCs, etc? Gone. Booyah!

It’s a convenient day dream. Littoral access just about anywhere along the so-called Crescent of Crisis will be contested if not denied, whether Iran, Korea, the ASEAN region, etc. The pivot from Europe (so-called) is two decades over due. The Army presence there a hang-over from 1949 and 1991. So some down-sizing inevitable anyway. The Marines, by the way are themselves seeking a smaller force. They want to go back to being both elite and focused on their unique mission. Stationing a token presence in Australia a geopolitical signal Asians will understand.

You’d be excused for wondering how the U.S. forgets its own Asian Lost Weekend. It deployed unprecedented kinetic violence, body counts and Special Forces and eventually sent GROPOS ashore at Danang. The internal logic of escalation dominance (irrational to an objective outside observer) and all that. How’d that work out?

According to Obama’s document the U.S. will not repeat Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. You see, Obama has invented ‘partial-pregnancy’. We will assert U.S. global superiority but not with onshore footprint of large combat forces. We will intervene and help domestic entities but won’t get ‘dragged in.’ Apparently it is the geo-political equivalent of the Rhythm Method. We don’t need to worry about logistics or CSAR because, well, because. While a drone base has a smaller footprint than a F-22/F-35 capable runway, bladders, hangers, etc. the report doesn’t deal with the future of Jedi Knights sitting in cockpits.

Overall, it’s a B. Leaving Europe and realizing the future will be in Asia notable achievements given endemic superficial U.S. strategic planning. A few rice bowls got nudged. Most of all Obama cynically kicked the can down the road after the elections for the details and real turf fights. Because you just know how well Obama does when he’s fresh off a victory. It’s bank, man.

_____________________

Appropos of absolutely nothing, but offered as a public service. What history suppressed. And now can be revealed.

Strategic Conference, U.S. President, Soviet Union, British Empire

Khaddafi And The American Dream Of Relevance

So he’s finally gone. We understand the Libyan joy. The American Twitterati and cable news pushing gruesome photos and the like? Not so much.

At 9:00 AM this morning ‘experts’ on cable already proclaimed today’s events proof of the ‘Libyan Model’ for handling other regional struggles, whether Yemen or Uganda. American airpower and C4ISR [if necessary insert NATO as delivery platform cut out] with a few special forces on the ground (SAS, French, DO/JSOC, etc.) would allow local peoples to *look like* they toppled their regime. They get the credit, dictator X is gone, and as Joe Scarborough said, “the people cheer America and wave American flags. That’s the important part.”

Khaddafi Killed, NATO, Airstrikes, Libyan Civil War, The Libyan Model

American fixation applying yesterday’s events to tomorrow is — as you know – a long standing, proud tradition. One could be part of a family called ‘Stop the Spirit of Zossen’ and even, you know, spend years talking about it together. Today, just to pick a pundit at random, Robin Wright intoned (without irony) how the above Libyan Model might be applied in the future. Remember in Spring and Summer of 2002 those who wanted to apply “the Afghanistan Model” to drain the swamp and impose regime change? Almost the exact same words: American airpower (JDAM and Daisy Cutters new to the pop lexicon), special forces and indigenous troops would avoid another Vietnam. All the rage, in Time magazine, etc. And that was when the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Times and a congressional hearing actually meant something.

More

Romney’s Brave New World

Romney delivered his ostensible foreign policy address this week. In a nutshell, here’s what he declared:

Mr. Romney, whose vision generally called for a strong and resolute America to lead the world, also outlined eight specific actions he would take in his first 100 days if elected president. These include strengthening naval power by increasing shipbuilding; improving relationships with the country’s close allies like Israel, Britain and Mexico; increasing deterrent measures to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon; revisiting a missile-defense system; reviewing the country’s strategy in Afghanistan; and starting a campaign for economic opportunity in Latin America. (When he unveiled his economic plan in Nevada last month, he also offered the 10 actions he would take on his first day in the Oval Office).

Mr. Romney said he would use the “full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict.” Though much of the Republican field has yet to articulate their specific foreign policy views, Mr. Romney tried to differentiate himself from some candidates — as well as some members of the Republican Congress — who have advocated a more isolationist strain of foreign policy . . . In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world,” he said. “In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.”

Fortunately, one need not spend a great deal of time deconstructing the speech. For starters it’s from Romney and conveyed the conviction and steel of a teenager discovering pop music. Second, Romney himself is too smart to believe it. Part of private capital is show and puffery, but in the end it is ruthlessly empirical: do the numbers work? Romance is a no no. And the numbers simply don’t add up for any of Romney’s speech.

American Empire, Mitt Romney, Election 2012

It’s all very Gee Dub Bush. Anachronistic, old school. Pure positioning for the primary. Still, the practiced cynicism to deliver this speech on this scale is world class. One can understand why he was so personally disliked by the other candidates in 2008.

Even the domestic specifics of Romney’s speech, increasing DoD’s budget and adding an additional 100,000 to the Army are essentially non-starters in the real world of Washington, D.C. politics. (Smartly, the Marines are actively seeking to down size). Romney said in Afghanistan merely he would ‘listen’ to his generals.

Vladimir Putin’s Dreams Of Strategic Depth

Even as America itself crumbles, the American Idea continues to pre-occupy the Continental mind. The EU, the euro and Maastricht all have their roots in early 20th century European fears of looming American power and economic scale – whether the shirts were red, brown or with French cuffs. The Corporal’s solution of forced integration to meet America in the 1950s or 60s as an equal? A variation on a theme.

Due to modern technology and the communication it makes possible, the international relations among peoples have become so close that the European, even without being fully conscious of it, applies as the yardstick for his existence the conditions of American life …

Today, the euro’s brittle weakness underscores the fundamental flaw of that post-war alternative, EU model. Economic integration must be married to the political.

Putin and many Russians have always known this. Indeed, in 1991, had Gorbachev been a better politician, the plan was to replace the Soviet Union with a confederacy of independent states. All those ideas hastily tossed after the botched coup.

Now, Putin openly makes the case for an integrated economic space to achieve the economies of scale and depth necessary to be a viably independent player on the world stage. Putin isn’t trying to rebuild the Soviet Union. Why should he? It failed. His goal is a more modern geo-strategic equivalent. Its starting point? A common customs integration among Belarus and Kazakhstan. Other ‘Stans are expected to hop on board soon according to Putin (and let’s overlook that Belarus suspended participation this summer when its economy stumbled).

There is no talk about rebuilding the USSR in one way or another. It would be naive to try to restore or copy something that belongs to the past, but a close integration based on new values and economic and political foundation is a demand of the present time.

Putin’s concept of a ‘Eurasian Union’ naturally triggers alarm bells across Eastern Europe, in former Soviet republics and even here. The Russian Right, after all, has long pushed for Moscow’s re-assertion across the Near Abroad. The Georgian War is a recent memory. Russian coercive energy politics blatant. Putin, however, is thinking about more than traditional Soviet nostalgia. His views on scale, international order and power are linked to his Continental predecessors from 100 years ago. Putin seeks to have Russia become the gatekeeper and driving force controlling a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok. This is literally his continental answer.

More

I Will Catch You When You Fall

God bless. In Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, too.

9//11, World Trade Center, Al Qaeda, Terrorism, War on Terror

This entire blog, from every comment from every reader, to every picture and typo – all of what we together have built is a living monument to 9/11 and its consequences. Proof that we do remember. Specifically, a recollection of 9/11 itself, with a link back to STSOZ 1.0 and Flight 93.

What do you think 9/11 means for us going forward?