Archive for the ‘Russia’ category

Understanding A Better Deal

April 1, 2015

The 24th hour came and went last night (actually early this morning Swiss time). The sun did rise at its appointed time a little later. What didn’t happen was an announcement that the major powers and Iran had reached a deal on nuclear weapons. As in all negotiations, the deadline is simply a marker that can be mored if the parties choose.

It remain an open question in the absence of an agreement whether negotiations will continue or whether Iran will walk away, persevere, and continue to build its nuclear capability.

Critics of the current negotiations call for holding out for a “better deal”. When asked what a better deal looks like, these critics offer larger and more significant dismantling of Iran’s nuclear industry (even the parts useful for peaceful nuclear energy) with no quick concession from the world powers on sanctions. Hmmm. Doesn’t sound exactly like negotiations to me. These positions sound exactly like “demands”… do it or else.

In fact critics of these negotiations, harken back to the hubris days leading up to invasion and occupation of Iraq. As with the Iraq WMD demands, cessation of negotiation with Iran can lead to only one place, another armed invasion in the Muslim world.

Critics argue, however, that war is not inevitable. They claim Iran will finally see the error of its ways and agree to tougher terms. Hmmm.

Why would the US, France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia and China not have already pushed for tougher terms and why would they suddenly see new light now? Doesn’t any think Iran pushed back?  Never the less critics claim they want negotiations for a “better deal” and tougher sanctions to boot. Hmmm.

It is likely that the US, France, Great Britain, and Germany see restrictions on Iran similarly. Each wanting no further nuclear proliferation while still maximizing their business opportunities in the Middle East. Russia and China are most likely on a different page. Both countries, of course, want economic benefits, and are leery of nuclear weapons spreading to their Muslim ethnic minorities.  Different than Europe and the US, Russia and China are more worried about precedents for meddling in other countries’ internal affairs. In short they see the economic embargo on Iran as a possible blueprint for ones that could be used against them in the future.

It should not be surprising then that what ever “deal” has been almost hatched might fall far short of what “neoconservatives” or AIPAC might want, but their myopic viewpoint does not include the importance of coexisting in the “real world” where Russia and China play.  These countries are far more important than all the Middle East Countries combined.

A better deal is one reached by the major countries and not one hatched up in Tel Aviv.

Advertisements

More Than Ever, Just Think

March 1, 2015

The, every four years, political season is beginning to take shape. While Hillary waits for the “right moment”, the GOP is already busy. There isn’t a deep pocket potential donor who is not being courted. It’s all about money, stupid.

The courtship, however, requires the GOP hopeful to say something catchy. Mr (or Ms) Deep Pockets won’t spring for just anyone. Money seeks candidates who think just like them. What happened to the good old days when being close to a celebrity, regardless of what they thought, was good enough?

Former Governor Rick Perry, sporting his new look dark rimmed (read I’m really intelligent) eye glasses provides a teaching moment early in what will turn out to be a tiring and possibly disgusting campaign for the GOP Presidential nomination.

Speaking at CPAC last week, Governor Perry said, “Here’s the simple truth about our foreign policy: Our allies doubt us and our adversaries are all too willing to test us,” Perry’s target, President Obama, the one safe target most all GOP Deep Pockets could agree to dislike.

More than ever, it is time for all of us to think.

Why should anyone think Perry’s carefully crafted words be true? And even if they were true, what should the United States do to correct them?

Let’s begin with the proposition that Perry’s words are true. Think about our allies, Germany, France, Denmark, Canada, Spain, and so on. Is that who Perry is referring too? Or could it be Israel…?

It should not be hard to understand that traditional “allies” like our European ones have long wished for the US to assume the world policeman role. This has allowed these countries to build their economies on dirt cheap defense budgets. The only doubt that could reasonably be expected to exist in European Government’s minds might be that the US was not going to rush to their economic support and that they were going to have to tax their citizens to conduct military oriented foreign policy. Our European allies must be wondering how they will get their citizens to pay.

Why would a party who wishes to cut US Government spending, want at the same time to increase foreign spending allowing foreign countries to spend little?

With respect to “our enemies” testing us, let’s be specific, which enemies? Does Perry mean Russia and the Ukraine situation? If he does, he should be disqualified immediately since Russia is a fully nuclear capable power and stopping its aggression involves also avoiding a nuclear holocaust.

If Perry sees Iran as our enemy, this is again a situation which begs for a more comprehensive response. Presumably Iran represents (in Perry’s thinking) an immediate risk because Iran is working to become nuclear capable. To be sure this is an undesirable outcome, but does it call for armed intervention again on a sovereign country?

President Obama has been calling for negotiations with Iran as the most practical route to control Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Negotiations are just that and these talks may end up short of what the US may prefer, not to mention they may fail completely. But where does an armed aggression leave one?

Perry’s remarks, we must remember, are written by others far more clever than him. His remarks are aimed at (1) Israel and its friends and (2) those who dislike the President. Perry is not seeking a dialog with wonks interested in how best to deal with nuclear proliferation.

Governor Perry has little to no chance to win the GOP nomination. For the present, however, Governor Perry is in the hunt and attracting some deep pockets is the best way to keep his quest alive.

A New Foreign Policy Strategy?

February 1, 2015

In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote a piece titled “America’s Strategy Deficit”. Hmmm. What does she mean?

Reading her opinion column doesn’t help a whole lot. Ms Noonan recounts the opinions of several present or former Generals as well as several former Secretaries of State. All of whom find fault with the present Administration’s grasp of a coherent strategy. Ms Noonan offers no suggestion about what that may be but drives home the point that the Obama Administration does not understand the world correctly.  Hmmm.

A little history might help to begin.

President Obama inherited a foreign policy that was like a ship had been bouncing along a rocky coast.  In 2008, the US foreign policy had come to rest stuck in on Middle East/Islamic beach unable to move.

We can see in 2015, that the assumption supporting the Bush foreign policy were patently wrong and the tools used to implement it were clearly inadequate. So to understand President Obama’s foreign policy one must start here.

Briefly, President Obama decided to “stop digging” in order to get out of Bush’s hole. This policy also fit the President’s personality which is risk adverse.  Obama sees the world as overly complicated and compensates for the global unknowns by waiting to see “how things played out”. There have been no information or events during President Obama’s term that supports the view that Bush had it right and Obama has it wrong.  So if Obama is wrong about the world, who should we consult to find the correct views? Why has the world become so difficult to understand?

Following WWII, there was but one country wealthy enough to provide global leadership and also grow its own economy at home. The US saw the world as divided in two camps, the communist world and the “free world”. Foreign policy was called “containment” and its goal was to keep the communist ideology from spreading beyond its current boards (largely the Soviet Union and China). This type of foreign policy was succinct and actionable. What few paid attention to was the simultaneous reality that the world also was divided along the lines of manufacturing capability too. The “West” grew more and more capable of producing “goods” while the “communist world” fell further behind.

This all changed suddenly. Along came the Japanese decade where Japan, propelled by its electronics and automotive industries conquered western markets. The Japanese seemed unstoppable but their secret to success was finally discovered.

The Japanese had mastered quality manufacturing.

Of course as it turns out, any country who follows quality principles (such as put forward by Deming, Juran, and others) can make high quality, lower cost goods. China and most of Southeast Asia have become the world’s manufacturing hub without firing one bullet.

So what’s the point?

The worlds trading partnerships have been reordered. Russia has opted to be a natural resource exported (oil and gas). China has chosen to be the 10,000 pound gorilla in the low cost, high quality manufacturing world. And thanks in part to Bush Administrations Middle East policies, the oil exporting countries from Morocco to Iran have been turned upside down with their indigenous “have nots” now seeking “more of the pie” in countries like Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. So tell me what’s the obvious US foreign policy so far overlooked by US strategic thinkers?

The world has changed but conventional US thinking has not.  The US  still pursues destruction of communism, keeping oil available and at predictable prices, and above all maintain the openness of world shipping routes.

Witness, expanding NATO’s boarders (and threatening Russia in the process), attempting to keep China from expanding its territorial ambitions into the South China Sea (and posing economic and security damage to countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan), and increasing US Southeast Asia alliances with nations we have previously disdained due to their internal policies (which has created all sorts of contradictory situations where human rights might be concerned). It is not hard to draw the conclusion that US foreign policy is on the wrong path.

Ms Noonan’s view of a US “strategy deficit” is only half the proposition. The more important half is “what should the US foreign policy be”.

If foreign policy is left to the Generals, it would be “boots on the ground”. If left to the politicians, it would be something for everyone (and results for no one). If left to the State Department professionals, it would be more of the same.

If left to our presumed allies, it would be more American money and lives while quietly diverting more and more wealth to their countries. What should we do?

You won’t find the answer here. Rather I would propose we consider that following:

  • America is wealthy enough and militarily strong enough to outlast our next strongest competitors unless we spend our way into bankruptcy. The combination of an open society and free enterprise makes the US economic model more durable and more competitive in the long run than other systems on the globe today. So there is no need to panic.
  • No religion anywhere in the world is our enemy. All religions are so internally flawed that the US secular society can prevail and be seen with envy from all other societies. We, of course, must not misinterpret this as a justification that any religion practiced in the US is superior to any other in the world.  Basically keep religions out of the equations.
  • From time to time, the US will be forced to use military forces with any foreign policy, to either defend itself or to achieve its foreign policy. As a safety precaution, the US must augment its volunteer Army with “drafted” civilians whenever US forces are committed for more that 90 days. Equally important, all employment of military force, must be funded with new designated proportional taxes on the US population. We should avoid any further conflicts where the expense is borrowed and the wars are fought with a narrow cut of Americans. This will force our leaders to think before committing the military.

In my opinion, these three simple principles will lead whatever party is in power to adopt and follow foreign policies that make sense. Every day that goes by is witnessing the rise of stronger military and economic threats to US national interests. Ms Noonan is correct is suggesting it is time to think what the US strategies should be.

Joy In Moscow and Beijing

September 17, 2014

All foreign and domestic policy rest upon an underlying “self interest” economic framework. The elite classes in most powerful countries support governments which follow policies which in turn steer more money towards these individuals. The quid pro quo is that in return for this economic favoritism, the elite class will employ the masses and will support the government. Hmmm.

From this perspective, one must attempt to view the global political world as a complex set of interactions driven by each nation’s economic self interests.

World leaders almost never, however, frame issues in these terms preferring instead to talk about growing their economy, developing other less well off countries, or bringing “freedom” to a repressed nation. When push comes to real fighting, many other causes are summoned, mostly around nationalistic values.

The world stands today at a dangerous fork in the road.  Neither path is glamorous but one of the paths is likely to be more dangerous.

Who would have thought a tired old marketing plan (from the middle ages), delivered by an insurgent Muslim absolutist group, could pose such a threat? ISIS represents the bogeyman and is portrayed as a world terrorist threat. So worrisome is this group, estimated as large ad 30,000 irregulars, that a coalition of Western and Middle East countries have pledged to “destroy” ISIS.

Oh, but there is a catch. None of these countries wants to commit ground forces. Hmmm.

Yesterday, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that under certain circumstances, he would recommend to the President the use of US ground personnel. This has been widely interpreted as the precursor to a US military return to Iraq and probably an invasion of Syria. Hmmm.

His Congressional testimony has also provoke a range of reactions. Sensing the uncertainty of the American public (in an election year), Congress members are careful in their response. One sane position has been to call for a vote on authorizing military action while repealing the two previous authorizations (2002 and 2003) which provided authority for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The simplest reason for a new authorization is that sooner or later Americans will be killed in action and Congress needs to be held accountable.

Lost in this paranoia about ISIS is that the entire Middle East is economically insignificant and with its religious, educational, and gender handicaps, unlikely to become important for generations. Middle East problems need the help of Middle East countries to resolve.

More important for the US, is the need to be cooly watching and reacting to Moscow and Beijing’s global initiatives and their relationship to our national interests. The US perspective ought be wide enough to comprehend the well being of the Americas as well as for the US alone. Can you imagine the US reaction if one day we woke up to a Chinese military base being welcomed by the Honduran Government?

There is of course no prescription for how to make relations between the US, Russia, and China better. And using military force against these nations should be not even a consideration. This post’s point, rather, lies in the folly which results from over concern about the Middle East and taking ones eye off the real targets.

With the potential that Washington is gradually slipping back into a middle ages fight with inconsequential forces, there must be joy in Moscow and Beijing, at least in the Board rooms of their biggest companies.

Delusional

September 3, 2014

Syria and the Ukraine offer insight into how a delusional person, place or thing is can come to be. Both countries reflect truly delusional thinking from political parties, the press, and the average citizen. The crisis in both these countries reflect failed US foreign policy coupled with dysfunctional behavior by others.

US foreign policy is built upon a false premise that capitalism and democracy can flower almost any place in the world.

In many places, “covert” US policy has tried to give this presumed thirst for democratic ways a boost (in fact, actually many boosts). In the 50’s and 60’s, dictators were preferred over popular governments because the US feared subsequent movement to communism.  In the 80’s the cold war ended.

Consider

  • When the Soviet Union imploded, US policy thought the timing was perfect for NATO and the European Community to expand, right up to Russia’s door steps. This view was “policy”. What drove policy, however, was the business and banking communities’ belief that billions in profits lay ahead, especially if Russian communism could give way to a democratic Russia.
  • With Syria, a similar foreign policy view was held. The Arab Spring had turned many into the streets to demand more from their governments. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and then Syria all hosted demonstrations and government attempts to suppress.
  • The US Syrian policy was particularly confusing. Just as with Saddam Hussein, Bashar al Assad was a brute of a leader. The Assad Government was broadly viewed as repressive and unrepresentative of the Syrian people.  But with the exception of Lebanon, Syria kept within its borders.
  • American policy, following the Arab Spring called for Assad’s resignation and nothing more. Assad had already seen what happened to strong minority leaders once they were out of office or overthrown. Assad wanted no part of that. Hence, a civil war.
  • The overthrow of the Russian friendly Ukrainian President Yanukovych was the last straw. Shortly there after, the reality of Eastern Ukraine and its Russian speaking majority became clear. Crimea voted with their feet.
  • Now, the eastern part of Ukraine is doing its best (with much Russian help) to pull more geography into the Russian sphere. These Russian loving Ukrainians are expressing the policy of mother land and free expression. The driving forces, again are economic with Russia wanting more geography (customers) and the separatists leaders expecting personal gains in a Soviet win. Syria, on the other hand, is a bit more complex.
  • The well armed Islamic extremists (ISIS) are simply crazy people by 21st century standards. They represent a continuation of al Qaeda and the Taliban. One can speculate that ISIS, aside from its advertised religious motivation, is driven by trying to build another Saudi-like State where this group of leaders become very rich men.

The ISIS foreign policy of converting everyone in their paths to strict Islam is totally delusional. Money and power drive this activity.

This week when ISIS released two videos showing the beheading of American journalists, most civilized people were appalled and disgusted. American politicians, member of the press, and everyday citizens have cried out for action. “These barbarians must be eliminated”. Hmmm.

There is no time like the present to reflect for a moment.

  • Who facilitated the current situation with a well intended (?) but naive invasion and occupation of Iraq… while that country could have been concentrating its efforts on “hot pursuit” of al Qaeda and the Taliban?
  • Which country spoke openly of Middle Eastern countries adopting “one person, one vote” when these people have never know democratic rule?
  • What country supported the overthrow of the Ukrainian freely elected President?
  • And what country openly encouraged regime change in Middle Eastern Countries during the Arab Spring?

Looking forward, the issue should not be “what would be ideal”, rather the issue is “what is possible” given the actual conditions.

The 2003 Iraq invasion has been intertwined with allegations that oil or Israeli foreign policy objectives greatly influenced American Middle East policy. Both seem plausible and may have been contributory. What cannot, however, be denied that American domestic politics and the simplistic “good and bad” labels were applied to the Middle East players.

More apropos would be to perceive all the players as bad and our job, if we insist upon interfering, is to pick those players who might create the least damage.

President Obama has learned that the entire American apparatus, CIA, State Department, Defense Department, and the business community see the world through very shaded glasses. Libya, like large parts of norther Africa will soon be a lawless failed State. Syria, without Assad will follow. It is not clear about Iraq but very recents events suggest a soft Federation (Sunni, Shiites, and Kurds) maybe the most practical outcome.

So what does that mean about ISIS?

The press needs to surrender the ISIS headlines and go dark. US and appropriate allies should put together clandestine operations which eliminate this extremist element or at least remove ISIS ability to create havoc. The world and surely Americans do not need hour by hour chants about what is the US going to do about these beheadings? I wonder whether the press or political figures have thought that our drone strikes almost assuredly decapitate both their targets and many unintended. Hmmm.

So what about Russia (versus the Ukraine)?

A wise move would be for the US to consolidate its post cold war gains and stop trying to move up to Russia’s border.  The American mentality does not understand “mother Russia” as it does not understand the Caliphate.  A soft surrender of the eastern parts of the Ukraine is probably the best option of rather poor (and delusional) choices.  Hmmm.

 

Surprise, Surprise

April 6, 2008

Reports coming from the meeting between President George W Bush and Soviet President, Vladimir Putin sounded totally predictable.  Putin showed Bush around Putin’s “get-a-way” on the Black Sea playing up to George’s vein ego.  George strutted around like he was important (and effective), both of which he is not.  The US sources quietly allowed that there would be no deal on the wrong headed proposal by Cheney and friends to place radar and anti-missile missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland.  I wonder why?

Could it be that this deployment makes no sense simply listening to the justifications given?  Who are the rogue nations with the capability, desire, and stupidity to fire intercontinental missiles at Europe or the US?  The deployment into countries very close to the Russian boarders is akin to the Russians deploying similar systems into Venezeula to protect them from unnamed threats in South America.  Would the US welcome that type of deployment?

Or could it be that “one issue at a time” Bush does not see the connection or that other people think in parallel and connect issues in trying to understand motives.  Bush hardly misses a chance to criticize Putin or Russia or to take the opportunity to champion some policy that the Russians view threatening.  Only earlier this week, while in the Ukraine, did Bush push for the inclusion of the Ukraine in NATO… of course against strong Russian objections.  Thankfully both Germany and France saw to it that Bush’s ideas were dead on arrival.

The next occupants of the White House need to learn from this situation.  (1) Don’t push issues that make no sense even if they are bankrolled by your rich supporters, and (2) remember that you can’t stick the other guy in the eye all the time and expect that person to cut you a break.  Bush seems to have been out of school the day they taught that lesson. 

International Diplomacy is an Art

April 1, 2008

Little Georgie Bush is on his own in Eastern Europe and making all sorts of statements disconnected from the main US interests and equally unhelpful in finding a way out of the Middle East mess.  We already know that George was a C+ student at Yale and can not be expected to command the broad understanding of the interconnections of foreign policies.  But it is not too much to expect that the State Department would provide him some diplomatically correct words if he insists on saying anything at all.

In a speech in the Ukraine, President Bush taunted the Russians by saying that the US (meaning Dick Cheney and George Bush) STRONGLY supported the entry of Ukraine into NATO.  If that was not enough, he went on to say, “and Russia will have no vote on this matter.”   So much for any help from the Russians on any Middle East conflict resolution (read Iran).  You have to admit that understanding the neoconservative flavor of Bush and Cheney’s rhetoric is relatively easy but why they say such things is mind boggling.  It is just wrong headed and clearly on a disaster course.

The US is at a point where the President should know and involve the Russians in important foreign policies such as:

  • Containment of Iran and its nuclear weapons ambitions
  • International coordination of efforts to combat extremists, especially Islamic ones
  • An ending to the Iraqi insurgency
  • A settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian situation
  • An end to the North Korean nuclear activities

But our man George seems to see the world as “one offs”, everything being totally separate issues.  For George, each issue requires a short briefing and then a fiery speech, and then more mountain biking.  It is simply mind boggling that for almost 8 years we have had a President who can not connect what he does today with what he did yesterday, and has no idea how both will affect tomorrow.