Originally published at Rubin Reports.
While President Obama’s State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting.
The president began in the same neo-patriotic mode used in the second inaugural address, with a special emphasis on thanking U.S. troops. He used the imagery of the end of World War II paralleling the return of troops from Iraq to promote his idea that the American economy must be totally restructured.
Obama defined his main successes—careful to credit the military (whose budget he seeks to cut deeply and whose health benefits he’s already reduced) rather than his usual emphasis on taking the credit for himself—were the following points:
Iraq Withdrawal. It is true that U.S. forces are largely out of Iraq yet this was inevitable, with one key reservation. There was no likelihood they would be there in a large combat role forever. Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, the American forces were staying for an interim period until the Iraqi army was ready. Any successor to George W. Bush would have pulled out the combat forces.
The reservation, of course, is that it was the success of the surge—which Obama and his new secretary of defense (yes, he will be confirmed) Chuck Hagel opposed. So he is taking credit for a policy that was inevitable and that was made possible by a success that he was against.
Lest you think that assessment is unfair to Obama consider this: he did absolutely nothing to make this outcome happen. No policy or strategy of his administration made the withdrawal faster or more certain.
Osama Bin Laden. This is a strange phrase: “For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” It is a new way of putting the “Obama killed Osama” meme while hinting that al-Qaida is not a threat to the United States. Well, as Benghazi shows, al-Qaida is still a threat but wording the sentence the way Obama did implies otherwise without saying so and looking foolish at making an obviously false claim.
Al Qaeda. Notice a very strange and ungrammatical formulation: “Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated.” I think this can only be understood as an incomplete change in the traditional slogan that al-Qaida has been defeated. The administration can no longer make this argument so it is looking for something that gets in bin Ladin’s assassination and that of other al-Qaida leaders (al-Qaida has been decapitated) with hinting that al-Qaida has been defeated.
In other words, someone did a bad job of proofreading the speech. Of course, all of this glosses over the fact that al-Qaida hasn’t been defeated. It is on the march in Mali, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, and other places.
Incidentally, al-Qaida will always be defeated politically because it has no strong political program or structure. That’s why al-Qaida kills but the Muslim Brotherhood wins. And Obama is helping the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Taliban. As for the Taliban, again there is a cute formulation: its “momentum has been broken.” In other words, the Taliban has survived, it is still launching attacks, and it might even take over large parts of Afghanistan after American troops leave. Momentum has been broken is just a fancy way of saying that its gaining power has been slowed down. Of course, after American troops leave, that momentum will probably speed up again.
In his second mention of foreign affairs, Obama spoke of economic issues, he says:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, fellow citizens:
Fifty-one years ago, John F Kennedy declared to this chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.” “It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union — to improve it is the task of us all.”
Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in 20. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.
So, together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the State of our Union is stronger.
But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs — but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs — but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.
It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.
It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country — the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or who you love.
It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.
The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together, and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.
Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget — decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.
Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion — mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.
Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?
In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness.They’d devastate priorities like education, and energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as the sequester, are a really bad idea.
Now, some in Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse.
Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms — otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.
But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and the most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers and more cops and more firefighters. Most Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.Jewish Press Staff
The civil war in Syria is no longer just about Bashar al-Assad, and even less about the desire of some liberal Syrians to have a more democratic government, personal freedom and economic development. It has become the front line in the Iranian war against the West, whose intermediate objective is to eliminate Israel, seen as a U.S. base.
Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy, are building a network of militias inside Syria to preserve and protect their interests in the event that President Bashar al-Assad’s government falls or is forced to retreat from Damascus, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials.
The militias are fighting alongside Syrian government forces to keep Assad in power. But officials think Iran’s long-term goal is to have reliable operatives in Syria in case the country fractures into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.
A senior Obama administration official cited Iranian claims that Tehran was backing as many as 50,000 militiamen in Syria. “It’s a big operation,” the official said. “The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it’s important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on.”
Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.” I think we can safely say that direct Iranian control of Syria via Hizballah is worse for Israel than the indirect control now being exerted via Bashar al-Assad. Despite the degree to which opposition to the existence of a Jewish state is fundamental to the Assad regime, it has been possible to convince the Syrian ruler that direct confrontation would lead to the total destruction of his military capability and the end of his reign. It is much harder to apply deterrence in the same way to a non-state proxy like Hizballah.
Even if Syria fragments along ethnic lines, which seems likely in the event of Assad’s collapse, a Hizballah-controlled enclave will serve Iran’s interests as a conduit to Hizballah in Lebanon:
In a divided Syria, Iran’s natural allies would include Shiites and Alawites concentrated in provinces near Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the key port city of Latakia. Under the most likely scenarios, analysts say, remnants of Assad’s government — with or without Assad — would seek to establish a coastal enclave closely tied to Tehran, dependent on the Iranians for survival while helping Iran to retain its link to Hezbollah and thereby its leverage against Israel.
Experts said that Iran is less interested in preserving Assad in power than in maintaining levers of power, including transport hubs inside Syria. As long as Tehran could maintain control of an airport or seaport, it could also maintain a Hezbollah-controlled supply route into Lebanon and continue to manipulate Lebanese politics. There are other elements among the Syrian rebels who would also be dangerous, some associated with al-Qaeda, who could turn parts of what is today Syria into terrorist no-man’s lands.
Israel could theoretically support Assad to try to keep the status quo. But this means keeping Syria as Iran’s base in the eastern Mediterranean. Iranian arms would continue to be supplied to Hizballah in Lebanon, and certainly efforts to transfer more advanced weapons or WMD would continue. There is also the ‘small’ problem that this would mean supporting a mass murderer, someone who is coming to define the concept of a vicious despot. He is a son of a gun, and he would not even be “our” son of a gun.
Assad, after all, is only a a bit player in this drama. The real villain is the Iranian regime, which has colonized Syria and is colonizing Lebanon in its attempt to squeeze out U.S. influence in the Middle East (and as a by-product destroy Israel and become the hero of the Muslim world).
Furthermore, Hizballah does not only threaten Israel. Its terrorist web spans the world, and it is becoming particularly powerful in Latin America. It is the tool Iran will use to confront the U.S., once it has gotten those pesky Jews in the Middle East out of the way.Vic Rosenthal
Recent steps taken by the Government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states.
Here is the evidence:
Starting in 2007, Ankara applied three times unsuccessfully to join as a Guest Member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (or SCO, informally known as the Shanghai Five). Founded in 1996 by the Russian and Chinese governments, along with three (and in 2001 a fourth) former Soviet Central Asian states, the SCO has received minimal attention in the West, although it has grand security and other aspirations, including the possible creation of a gas cartel. More, it offers an alternative to the Western model, from NATO, to democracy, to displacing the U.S. dollar as reserve currency. After those three rejections, Ankara applied for “Dialogue Partner” status in 2011. In June 2012, it won approval.
One month later, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reported about his saying to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, “Come, accept us into the Shanghai Five [as a full member] and we will reconsider the European Union.” Erdoğan reiterated this idea on Jan. 25, noting stalled Turkish efforts to join the European Union (E.U.): “As the prime minister of 75 million people,” he explained, “you start looking around for alternatives. That is why I told Mr. Putin the other day, ‘Take us into the Shanghai Five; do it, and we will say goodbye to the E.U.’ What’s the point of stalling?” He added that the SCO “is much better, it is much more powerful [than the E.U.], and we share values with its members.”
On Jan. 31, the Foreign Ministry announced plans for an upgrade to “Observer State” at the SCO. On Feb. 3 Erdoğan reiterated his earlier point, saying “We will search for alternatives,” and praised the Shanghai group’s “democratization process” while disparaging European “Islamophobia.” On Feb. 4, President Abdullah Gül pushed back, declaring that “The SCO is not an alternative to the E.U. … Turkey wants to adopt and implement E.U. criteria.”
What does this all amount to?
The SCO feint faces significant obstacles: If Ankara leads the effort to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the SCO firmly supports the beleaguered Syrian leader. NATO troops have just arrived in Turkey to man Patriot batteries protecting that country from Syria’s Russian-made missiles. More profoundly, all six SCO members strongly oppose the Islamism that Erdoğan espouses. Perhaps, therefore, Erdoğan mentioned SCO membership only to pressure the E.U.; or to offer symbolic rhetoric for his supporters.
Both are possible. But I take the half-year long flirtation seriously for three reasons. First, Erdoğan has established a record of straight talk, leading one key columnist, Sedat Ergin, to call the Jan. 25 statement perhaps his “most important” foreign policy proclamation ever.
Second, as Turkish columnist Kadri Gürsel points out, “The E.U. criteria demand democracy, human rights, union rights, minority rights, gender equality, equitable distribution of income, participation and pluralism for Turkey. SCO as a union of countries ruled by dictators and autocrats will not demand any of those criteria for joining.” Unlike the European Union, Shanghai members will not press Erdoğan to liberalize but will encourage the dictatorial tendencies in him that so many Turks already fear.
Third, the SCO fits his Islamist impulse to defy the West and to dream of an alternative to it. The SCO, with Russian and Chinese as official languages, has a deeply anti-Western DNA and its meetings bristle with anti-Western sentiments. For example, when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad addressed the group in 2011, no one refused his conspiracy theory about 9/11 being a U.S. government inside job used “as an excuse for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and for killing and wounding over a million people.” Many backers echo Egyptian analyst Galal Nassar in his hope that ultimately the SCO “will have a chance of settling the international contest in its favor.” Conversely, as a Japanese official has noted, “The SCO is becoming a rival block to the U.S. alliance. It does not share our values.”
Turkish steps toward joining the Shanghai group highlights Ankara’s now-ambivalent membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, starkly symbolized by the unprecedented joint Turkish-Chinese air exercise of 2010. Given this reality, Erdoğan’s Turkey is no longer a trustworthy partner for the West but more like a mole in its inner sanctum. If not expelled, it should at least be suspended from NATO.Daniel Pipes
In a high-stakes gamble, British Prime Minister David Cameron said last week, in his long anticipated speech about the European Union, that he would like the E.U. to be an open, internal market based on nation states rather than the centralizing and protectionist supranational European superstate currently in the making. To achieve this vision, the E.U. treaty, which explicitly calls for “an ever closer union,” needs to be revised. Cameron promised the British public that he would renegotiate the treaty to allow Britain to opt out of centralizing E.U. policies. He also committed to holding a referendum on Britain’s E.U. membership after the renegotiation, or by 2017 at the latest.
Cameron says he is confident that he will be able to persuade his E.U. colleagues of his views. If he fails, however, it will leave the British Conservative Party with no other option than leading Britain out of the E.U. The odds, moreover, are against Cameron.
His speech was not well received on the continent: Cameron was accused of pandering to the British electorate. Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s Foreign Minister sniffed that Cameron wants to “cherry pick” which aspects of E.U. membership to take or leave. Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s minister for the E.U., said that the E.U. is not “an a la carte package.” Spain and Italy were equally critical, while E.U. President Herman Van Rompuy cast doubt on whether a major revision of the treaty – essential to Cameron’s strategy – would take place.
These reactions are indicative of the contempt the political elites have for the concept of democratic accountability. Cameron was right to insist that democratic accountability is currently lacking in the E.U., while this should be one of the basic principles on which it is built. As The Wall Street Journal noted: “It says something about the mentality of too many European officials today that they are shocked that a British Prime Minister would put British interests and values at the core of his concerns.”
The reason why so many European politicians seem prepared to sacrifice prosperity and democratic representation on the altar of centralization is that their political cultures lack the democratic tradition of Britain. It is no coincidence that Switzerland, the most democratic country in Europe and also the one with the longest democratic tradition, categorically refuses to join the E.U.
Apart from Switzerland, the strongest democratic traditions are found in the countries belonging to the so-called Anglosphere. Cameron began his speech by referring to the British character, “independent, forthright, passionate in defense of our sovereignty.” He added that “in Europe’s darkest hour, we helped keep the flame of liberty alight. Across the continent, in silent cemeteries, lie the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for Europe’s freedom.” Indeed, and the same applies to Americans, Canadians and Australians – the other nations of the so-called Anglosphere, the set of English-speaking nations of European stock with a Western cultural heritage.
In his 2004 book, The Anglosphere Challenge, American author James C. Bennett argued that the cultural and legal traditions of English-speaking nations make them particularly sensitive to anti-democratic tendencies. Historian Andrew Roberts points out that the Anglosphere was central in defeating Nazism and Communism in Europe. He says that it will also be crucial for the defeat of Islamism. Bat Ye’or argues in her book Eurabia, that the E.U. is one of the vehicles of Islamization in Europe today. By undermining the national identities of its member-states, which are seen as incompatible with the aim of building a pan-European superstate, the E.U. is also depriving the European peoples of the identity which they badly need if they are to assimilate the masses of Muslim immigrants who have settled in Europe during the past decades.
JUDGING FROM the American reaction to David Cameron’s speech, however, it seems that Britain can expect little support from the Anglosphere in its opposition to the centralizing E.U. tendencies. Prior to his speech, Washington warned Cameron not to be too critical of the E.U. and not to allow a referendum on the E.U.
Philip Gordon, the U.S. assistant secretary for European Affairs, was sent to London to tell the British government that “referendums have often turned countries inwards.” It is unclear what that assessment is based on: countries that allow referendums are usually the most democratic in the world and democracy is characterized by openness to the outside world. A Downing Street spokesman reacted to the American intervention with the remark: “The U.S. wants an outward looking E.U. with Britain in it, and so do we.”Peter Martino
For more than two decades now, the West has been occupied with nuclear programs of classic anti-Western forces, such as Iran, the now-toppled Gaddafi regime of Libya and North Korea. Nonetheless, the West has been overlooking an Islamic country that already has nuclear arms rather than nuclear ambitions: Pakistan.
Pakistan is a nuclear power that might swiftly fall into the hands of Islamists. If that happens, Pakistan might well be the most dangerous country in the world. That is so because if the Islamists take control of Pakistan, they will not worry about the consequences of launching a nuclear attack even on other nuclear powers.
In fact, the prospect of retaliation action might feed into their sense of being on a martyrdom mission. They would consider a global nuclear catastrophe as saving the world from its sins.
American diplomacy is indeed concerned with Pakistan’s nuclear power falling into the wrong hands. A U.S. embassy cable –made public by Wikileaks–discussed the possibility of Islamists gaining power in Pakistan, leading to a tense nuclear stand-off with India. This reveals, however, that the U.S. concern for Pakistan’s nuclear power is still limited to the regional level.
That is naïve.
Pakistan is already developing a long-range delivery system for its nuclear weapons, particularly the Hatf-7 – a missile with an estimated range of 1,500 miles. The missiles name translates as “Doom” in both Arabic and Urdu. The Pakistani Air Force also operates state of the art F-16 fighters; Pakistan’s F-16Cs are very advanced and are capable of carrying and delivering nuclear missiles.
So, will Pakistan’s Islamists actually come to power? Is there much the world can do to prevent to prevent it?
The biggest difference between Pakistan and most Muslim states is that Pakistan has a functional electoral system that actually works. That also means it could bring the Islamists to power. Luckily, thus far, the Islamists have not yet been able to control the Pakistani electoral scene. A 2008 poll showed a minority of Pakistanis supported Islamist militants, were critical of the U.S. and sought a “moderate Islamic state.” That minority, however, is window for the Islamists waiting to be opened.
Another warning sign is that Pakistan’s Taliban is considered a unified entity with Afghanistan’s Taliban and is not by any stretch less active.
On the other hand, Pakistan has a strong military institution that seems to control the country’s politics. In 2008, Al-Jazeera aired a documentary about Pakistan titled, “An Army That Owns a State,” in which it argued that the entire Pakistani state is just a façade for the military institution which actually has the final say on the country’s politics. True or not, the Pakistani army has been successful at keeping the Islamists out of controlling the government as well as a serious partner of the West in its war on terrorism.
Nonetheless, some say the Pakistani military has also been supporting the Islamists at the same time. For example, the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, told this author that both the Pakistani Army and the Pakistani Intelligence– better known as the Inter-Services Intelligence — had been supporting the Islamists at the same time they were supporting NATO operations against them. There seems to be much to support General Kemps’ views. Countless reports seem to confirm Pakistan’s involvement in supporting the Taliban, including a U.S. cable made public by Wikileaks, which was circulated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Last May, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, for example raised more questions regarding Pakistan’s true stance on terror. Bin Laden was located in an suburban area barely 30 miles away from Pakistan’s capital, and only a few hundred yards away from Pakistan’s top military academy, the Pakistani version of West Point.
At the time, some U.S. officials said the Pakistani government will have a lot of explaining to do, though no serious questioning or explaining it seems was ever done. The U.S. and NATO apparently feel that Pakistan was too important of an ally in its war on terror to offend.
It is safe to assume that the Pakistani military and intelligence officers realize their importance to the U.S. in its war on terror, and are not afraid to push the envelope in both aiding the terrorists and joining the war on terror at the same time in order to gain more significance to the U.S.Mudar Zahran
Originally published at Rubin Reports.
One of the main features of this misguided contemporary foreign policy debate is the corruption of the concept of ‘realism.’ In some ways, the school called realism was simply a way of teaching principles long regarded as obvious in Europe to Americans, whose idealism about the world had both good and bad implications. Both isolationism and the idea that America’s mission is to spread democracy are typical non-realist patterns of how American exceptionalism plays into foreign policy thinking. That’s why the concepts that made up realism were introduced to the United States by Hans Morgenthau, a refugee from Germany, and most clearly practiced in office by Henry Kissinger, ditto.
But American policymakers–with notable and often disastrous exceptions–have mostly used a realist approach in their work to the point that they take it for granted. At times, of course, ideology has overridden realism, with the two most obvious cases being Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Republican presidents, for a reason we will see in a moment, have tended to be more universally Realist because they have accepted the idea of the predominance of national interest and power. The one who was probably least so was George W. Bush.
And, no, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan are not ‘realists’ or realists either.
This is a complex subject and one discussed at some length in my book, Secrets of State. It is important to emphasize that Morgenthau articulated ideas already widely held and practiced but never so effectively put into words. In his writings, Morgenthau stressed that the making of foreign policy lay at the juncture between human nature, the characteristics and views of leaders, and objective factors of geopolitics.
The assumption of international affairs’ thinking was that strong countries want to stay strong and be stronger; weaker countries want to survive. They thus must analyze how to achieve these goals. A good realist disregards ideology, which gets into the way of objectively viewing this situation.
The problem that many who claim to practice this view today don’t understand is that the realist knows that ideology does get in the way of objective interest all the time. The first question a realist asks is: asks “How does this policy affect the power and interests of the nation?” But the realist knows that this is the way things should be done, not necessarily the way that things happen.
Today, realism has been corrupted into a bizarre reversal of its principles which begins by asserting that it doesn’t matter who rules a country; they must follow a policy that maximizes the country’s interest. Note the distinction:
The realist says, “If I were making policy this is what I would do….” Or: “This is what the government should do.”
The contemporary misunderstanders say that this is what a country will do.
Here’s a simple example: Egypt has national interests. These include maintaining peace with its neighbors, focusing on stability and development. It can seek Arab or Islamic leadership but what will that bring but instability, violence, and the waste of resources? That would be an ideological deviation from Egypt’s national interests. After all, Egypt tried such a policy (Arab nationalist version) for decades and it was a disaster. The realist says: Egypt shouldn’t do it. The pseudo-realists who control much of the Western debate today, on the other hand, say: It is impossible for Egypt to be radical or governed by an ideology that runs against the objective national interests. Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood must become moderate. [For a picture of the Brotherhood that shows this isn’t true, see Eric Trager’s excellent lecture.]
At the same time, though, realism understands that conflict is a natural part of the international environment and can be very useful for a regime. If you stir up people, get them obsessed with foreign enemies, and engage them in international adventures—as dictators including Hitler and Saddam Hussein understood—they are more likely to support the current government, excuse its failings, and ignore domestic problems. This is the role that the Arab-Israeli conflict has played in Arabic-speaking countries.
Wiser leaders like Egypt’s like Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein understood that the fanatical pursuit of this conflict was not in their country’s true interests. But such is the power of ideology, the opportunism of their opponents, and the value of such a policy for radical regimes that they received scant praise for their objective and pursuit of national benefits.Barry Rubin
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/the-un-realism-of-todays-foreign-policy/2013/02/03/
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