LOOKING TOWARDS AND BEYOND 2015: THE HARD STRATEGY AND DECISIONS IN A DETERIORATING WORLD

President Obama defending U.S Foreign Policy at West Point.
President Obama defending U.S Foreign Policy at West Point.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

In a world that increasingly seems bent on self-destruction, bad governance, and self-inflicted wounds, there is clearly an urgent need to, as they say, “get a grip” on things!  As President Obama has said, none of these problems are easy; they will take a long time to deal with and they can’t be done by just one nation. Nor can they be addressed by just doing nothing. The key is, as Obama again said, is “not to do stupid things”, and needless to say do intelligent things and do them well and do them with other like minded nations whenever possible. This means first of all examining with care our values and our real interest, the cost and practicality of possible options, and not least the probability of success and any unforeseen consequences; what some would call “blowback.”

The last Bush administration did none of this and this administration has learned hopefully that lessen of “not doing stupid things.” That does not mean withdrawing from the world, but it may mean forcefully responding to a crisis when necessary and practical. But what are the elements that either make good policy and strategy and what are the harsh constraints in devising good strategy and properly implementing it, and with others, in a true multilateral coalition?

First, one domestic constraint on an effective American role in addressing global challenges is our corrosive political landscape, which is too often driven by hate, ignorance, stupidity, and partisan politics and not by good values or the national interest. The right wing neo-con hawks have criticized Obama for “leading from behind”. This pejorative statement is simply partisan from those who got us into an unnecessary war at great cost to our nation, the lives of brave men and woman in the armed forces, and our embassy staff. Now they are looking at pushing a unilateral unnecessary war with Iran and seem to be fomenting a  crude “cold war” strategy and creating implacable enemies out of China and Russia. Sadly, some of this is to increase mindlessly the DOD budget on behalf of the military-industrial sector and to push narrow ideological and myopic interests.

This is not the way to make smart strategic and foreign policy decisions. It has already hurt our global role as Congress debates the coming budget and pushes restrictions on the president’s ability to conduct his foreign policies as this is written.

Second, external constraints were partly covered in our earlier post and several are looked at below and others will follow in this series. In our last look at forward strategy, we tried to take a “macro” perspective and asked: “did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?” Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.”  Another installment will be looking forward into 2015 and beyond, would be aimed specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy.

THE CHANGING GLOBAL AND STRATEGIC AND LANDSCAPE AND THE DECLINE OF GOVERNMENTS AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ADDRESS OUR REAL AND COMING RISKS

There are many reasons why governments and international organizations seem increasingly incapable of addressing and mitigating our global challenges and high-risk dangers. Not least, as we have noted, is the growing indifference of many nations including in the United States to the plight of the most at risk and vulnerable. The recent global recession had a deep impact on the reaction of citizens who have a growing sense of hopelessness.  Encouraged in the United States  by right-wing Republicans, their billionaire backers, and their paid for media and pundits, have long pushed for disdain of role of government and international organizations in serving the well-being of common citizens in need.  These forces drove public opinion against sufficient support for preemptive action to address major dangers to national security and global stability and humanitarian crises. This means that organizations like UNESCO, UNDP, UNEP, UNHCR, World Health Organization, World Food Program, NATO, World Bank, and the UN system as a whole including the Security Council, are under funded and restricted by member states from taking effective action to address oncoming risks and conflicts. If this trend continues, the risk to American security and to the global system’s ability to address and mitigate serious major threats will continue to deteriorate and risks and costs will grow and not diminish. We need a new look on how to make these international institutions more effective and forward looking.  

TOP LEVEL THREATS: PROLIFERATION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND DESTABILIZED REGIONS AND NATIONS 

Despite all the headlines about terrorism, the far greater risk to U.S. and global security at the existential level are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue or unstable and confrontational nations. This includes Russia under the unpredictable President Putin and Pakistan and India with nuclear weapons; nations both of which are in conflict with each other. North Korea already has nuclear weapons and is led by an unpredictable leader, and the possibility of an Iran with nuclear weapons in a region of ubiquitous conflict and instability. Each of these problematic centers will remain well into 2015  and beyond and need a much higher level of attention by all global actors than has been seen hereto through by all nations and especially among some in Congress who seem to think “war” is the answer to every issue.  I suggest to our readers to look at the post of Secretary Kerry’s Geneva press conference for an insight into this problem with a focus on Iran and beyond.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES TOP LEVEL THREATS

As President Obama has made clear there is no more important crisis the globe faces that climate change and its consequences.  Many members of the Republican Congress do not think it exists, or do not think that it is caused by human activities, and even encourage energy sources that are among the worst polluters. This roadblock needs to be overcome with an enlightened global leadership, and the environmental community and citizens need to act. This is what the president had done by domestic legal regulations and international agreements that do not require Senate ratification. The agreement with China, the trip to India with this as a key topic, and with efforts to at last forge a global consensus on a broad range of climate impacting actions indicates some useful progress. More is still needed.  I think 2015 and 2016 will see major moves abroad with our allies on this issue while opposition by Republicans will persist.  

GLOBAL POVERTY, CIVIL UNREST, POPULATION MOVEMENTS AND GROWING COMMUNAL AND REGIONAL WARS AND TERRORISM

There is little question that America and the rest of the world will increasingly be impacted by the larger forces we have already seen arising. Frankly, they are at a cost of our past indifference to what is happening beyond our borders. Few paid attention to these forces; many of our leaders and our citizens and especially our corrupted media are giving more space and time to what the last stupid celebrity did, diverting our people from facing serious issues and solutions.

Terrorism is just one result of indifference by governments, powerful elites, and business to a larger social responsibility.  It will not go away overnight but it can be mitigated and in part overcome. The primary action needed is to give jobs to those that live in hopelessness and despair. The other is to fight the ideology of hate and those that use terrorism to achieve their aims.  Here the answer is not just military. Often here is where diplomacy and collective political and economic action can and should mitigate the conditions that breed conflict and narrow nationalism or racial hate. 

Countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, much of the conflict-ridden Middle East and many parts of Africa need greater help than has so far been given. If we do not recognize this we will be over whelmed over time by several results: more conflict, an increased spread of diseases, greater poverty, and humanitarian and natural disasters and in the end a high risk world for all.

THE SO-CALLED RISE OF MAJOR “NEW” ACTORS ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE

A lot has been written about the rise of “new” powers like China, India, and, for some, Russia.  This concept is often joined by the so-called “decline” of America and Europe. Frankly, this has both a part of truth but also a lot of nonsense.  Yes, India and China are growing but each has still deep-seated weaknesses, which will undermine their inherent potential for decades due not least to the large inequality that exists and social, racial, and ethnic divisions within each society. For Russia, despite all the aggressive and destructive actions, it is a state of concealed but deep crisis and decline that seems, under Putin, to reject modernity or even rationality and has destroyed its citizens meaningful participation in their collective decisions. This can’t last in the present equilibrium that is unstable over the long run. Putin is an historical tragedy for Russia at this time.  But the West and the rest of the world need a strategy to draw Russia over time into a community of cooperating and responsible states and we should never give up this goal. 

Some European leaders recognize this, but the silly forces on the right seem to think unneeded war with a nuclear-armed irrational nation is a bit of a lark. In 2015, Obama seems to know this and is struggling to find the right balance of restraint and prevention of aggression and the “inducement” of diplomacy, economic gain, and cooperation. We are likely to see more of this but Ukraine is the testing ground for both sides in 2015 and beyond and the only “good” solution requires Ukraine to remain a viable independent and unified state that can choose its destiny in the long run.

More on specific challenges will come in future posts and a look a creating a more effective international structure and the ability to foresee earlier coming dangers and respond.  

We welcome your comments!

2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?

2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR:: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?

By Harry C. Blaney III

2014 was without much doubt a significant year in terms of global security. One question is whether 2014 has set a trend in the makeup of our international order in the future and to what extent? The events of 2014 were at many levels transformative but also show much continuity with the recent past trends.

Terrorism took on a new guise in the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and “caliphate”), with the fierce occupation by this extraordinarily brutal group of large areas in both Iraq and Syria. The emergence of added conflicts and upheavals in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the Sunni-Shia divide were continuing factors of instability. But less mentioned is the serious question of unstable and nuclear armed Pakistan’s trajectory and that of nuclear India which is being reshaped still as this is written with unknown consequences.

Another event of special note was the end of an assumed understanding about the security and inviolability of the boundaries and independence of existing European states by the invasion and occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by Russian troops and paid mercenaries. With the annexation of Crimea, and now continued fighting and uncertainty over the fate of Eastern Ukraine, the viability and security of the entire country has changed radically the landscape of Central and eastern Europe and beyond.

NATO has reassessed its role and the implication of these actions resulted in agreement to establish a more robust “rapid reaction force.” America also has assigned a “rotating” troop and air armed units to the Baltic States. Putin has recently called NATO a threat to Russia and the new Russian strategic plan seems a bit more aggressive than earlier.

Not least, with this external belligerence towards what Russian nationalists call “The Near Afar” or “Near Abroad” – their neighborly countries, – Putin has established increasingly harsh authoritarian rule over Russia and its people proper. This development is as important to global security and stability as is the Ukraine invasion and conflict. The two seem to be intertwined and have indeed been fed by Putin and his cronies heating up a new “fascistic” Russian xenophobia and militaristic nationalism.

This effort can be attributed to the perceived need by Putin to shore up his domestic support in light of an increasingly economic catastrophe that Russia seems to be experiencing at the end of 2014; all due to Putin’s costly international blunders and foolish economic choices. Even Putin has acknowledged in his New Year’s message that Russia faces hard times ahead.

At home, the same neo-cons that got us into an unneeded and disastrous war in Iraq, and ran the Afghanistan war mindlessly and incompetently now wrongly depict Putin and Russia as stronger, which is absurd given the real impact of sanctions, the fall in the price of oil and gas, and the precipitous fall of the Ruble. This argument was not only predominant in one major neo-con publication but has been picked up by the right-wing GOP hawks who if they had their way would have us still deep in the mud of “endless war.”

The reality is the increased isolation of Putin personally and of Russia. Their economy ever fragile is now in real recession and week in many sectors. Global leaders realize, as do investors, that Russia under Putin is a risky place to place any bets on. This new realization by many is that Russia is in the hands of an incompetent, arbitrary, and illusionary leader who seems to care not a bit about the well being of his country’s people. Russia is weaker today than at the start of 2014 despite all of its aggression and seems destined to fall further under Putin’s harsh hand unless there is a major change of course. None of this is good news for the West, however, given the uncertainty of Russian behavior.

On the contrary, America, led by President Obama and with the help of Secretary John Kerry and his team, is clearly in ascendancy, but largely unnoticed by our U.S. media or acknowledged by the Republicans. With the U.S. showing a recent 5% growth rate, better job numbers, and closer cooperation with Europe, it remains at the center of global decision-making and power.

Further, with the negotiations with China over climate change successful, the continued push for Atlantic and Pacific free trade treaties, and the hope of successful nuclear talks with Iran continuing, there is some positive momentum for 2015. In addition, the successful efforts to help put together still fragile, but key new “unity” governments in Afghanistan and Iraq is better than the likelihood of immediate tribal conflict between major ethnic communities in the face of terrorist threats.

One of the great new creative developments has been President Barack Obama’s initiative to reestablish relations with Cuba. This is a landmark action with potential to change the entire playing field regarding a nation that is in a time of major transition. Obama has with one stroke of the pen re-engaged America with Cuba. He recovered two prisoners and let long serving Cubans in jail free, see political prisoners released, broadened the areas of exchange of visits, goods, and dialogue, advancing towards early establishment of full diplomatic relations.

Yet, what one must also recognize is the continuing monumental challenge that faces all of mankind and our natural world: climate change. And 2014, while it did not bring about any immediate significant global move to fully address this existential threat, has nevertheless shown some progress and hints of what the major powers might be trying to move towards to mitigate, if not yet fully solve the coming cataclysm. This has largely been done by executive authority whether by domestic pollution regulation or by international diplomacy.

Also among the non-events, Iraq and Afghanistan did not yet disintegrate into warning ethnic and political conflict but at least for now choose a path of political compromise and efforts at inclusiveness, thanks to the intensive efforts of Secretary Kerry backed by President Obama along with efforts of other diplomats. China did not make a full war yet over the South China Sea islands, and Putin did not yet attack any NATO countries,  although he did send irresponsible flights and ships near NATO counties and neutrals to show his great detest toward their sanctions. North Korea did not use its nuclear bombs and thus saved itself from total destruction. And American politics continued, without change, its corrosive politics, however adding one electoral change that may have extended the power of its crazies over the Senate.

What did not happen in 2014 is almost as important as the events that did. We did not attack Iran, nor do we have combat troops in Syria yet. We have not changed our goal to pull direct combat troops out of Afghanistan, but did act to support that frail nation and its armed forces in more constructive ways. Russia did not become “Nine Feet” tall but simply diminished itself with its own acts of silliness and cruelty. Additionally, Scotland did not become an isolated mini-state north of Britain, the American economy did not “tank” but grew and in the 3rd quarter some 5% annual growth. Lastly, Europe still did not really recover from it own self induced “austerity” policy which has proved a disaster for most of the EU counties that tried that disastrous road.

Sadly, the Middle East remains in deadlock; largely by the determined and also self-destructive efforts, not least new settlements, of the current Israeli government to destroy it seems the only possible rational creation of a two state solution. Nor did the PLA do much that was constructive. Gaza was a tragedy for all sides.

In the coming weeks we will be writing about what 2015 and beyond may bring, and look at how America might shape events towards positive outcomes and perhaps even more real security and peace.

We welcome your comments!

SHUTDOWN AND DEBT CRISIS: A PAUSE FOR REFLECTION BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD

 

SHUTDOWN AND DEBT CRISIS: A PAUSE FOR REFLECTION BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD

By Harry C. Blaney III

While the end of the current shutdown and debt ceiling crisis is now over it has NOT ended. It has simply been postponed. Further, while some have been writing that the Tea Party faction has been chastened, the first reading is that they are mad and have no intention of backing down on their absurd goals which will only hurt America and hurt the majority of Americans. Not least, however, is that they have severely damaged America’s global image and brought into question the full faith and credit of the United States. Our friends and allies are still worried and our adversaries are taking advantage of our dysfunction.

 The debt and shutdown fight uncovered and created added American vulnerabilities abroad. Other nations question more our reliability and soundness of our commitments. This includes in our negotiations of our new Atlantic and Pacific trade pacts, in pushing nations to do more against weapons of mass destruction, in our requests for help by other nations in reducing dangerous conflicts, and in cooperation to deal with our continued global economic and financial problems.

 The major problem of our current governmental and political dysfunction continues as long as a minority of a minority can halt all legislation and tie in knots efforts at reasonable negotiations and seriously addressing our challenges at home and abroad. No one can deny that having a strong domestic economy, growing employment, better education of our children, taking care of our aged and poor, and improving our science and technology, providing health for all citizens, and rebuilding of our decrepit infrastructure, are key to our continued progress and global leadership.

 Yet all of these goals the Republicans and especially the Tea Party faction are still opposed and so far they are backed by billionaire malevolent forces that seem more interested in keeping their billions than in moving the country forward. They also seem more interested in not addressing many of our key global interests like climate change, getting our national security balance and costs right, supporting arms control and non-proliferation, and least of all, helping the poorest nations and the growing gap between the very rich and the poor to change.

 America and Americans have a stark choice. We can either in these next three years help President Obama and our other leaders address our needs and our responsibilities at home and abroad or we can dither, decline, and become inured to the plight of our own people and their needs. And the Tea Party and many Republicans on the right would do the same to the growing danger signs abroad. They have no interest in addressing these issues despite a need at major a effort to rethink our national security instruments and policies and our international landscape.

 All this cries out for leadership, added resources and greater cooperation with other nations and in strengthening and reforming the United Nations and other international institutions to address better issues like environmental decay, health care, increasing our capability of stopping conflicts and genocide, slavery, terrorism, hunger and working to advance human rights and democracy. The Tea party would walk away from a functioning U.S. government and they would walk equally away from America acting as a force for a more decent world as well.

 So the struggle for America’s soul is not over. This was only the opening salvo and a great debate should ensue as to what America is about and what is our role in the 21st century to ensure we give to our children a safer more fair world so they don’t have to endure the stupidities that we have just gone through.

We welcome your comments!

Obama’s Re-Election: Response from Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East

President Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday, November 6, 2012, over Republican candidate Mitt Romney, winning the Electoral votes 332-206. With over 50% of the popular vote, President Obama was able to maintain, and in some cases better, his percentage of minority voters to not only gain a decisive victory over his opponent, but also demonstrated the impact of changing voter demographics in the United States. A critical component to President Obama’s victory was the growth of Asian-American voters, of whom more than 70% chose the incumbent over Mr. Romney.

Leading up to the election, many voters believed that President Obama’s handling of foreign policy over the last four years was a clear advantage to gain re-election. Under the Obama administration, diplomatic and military relations with Asia have received more attention, with administration officials seeking to create stronger ties with the region.

Leaders from around Asia offered congratulations to President Obama on his victory, with calls to promote and strengthen future relations. President Noynoy Aquino of the Philippines stated on his Twitter page, “The Philippines looks forward to deepening the cooperation between the Philippines and the United States in Mr. Obama’s second term.”

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said, “[China will] look to the future and make continuous efforts for fresh and greater progress in the building of the China-US cooperative partnership.”

Leaders from Central Asia and the Caucasus’s reacted similarly, congratulating President Obama wholeheartedly, while stressing that he should maintain strong relations going into his second term. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian responded by sending “warmest congratulations and best wishes” to the President, adding that “our multifaceted cooperation will yield new impressive results for the mutual benefit of our peoples.”

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev sent Mr. Obama a telegram stating, “I am confident that in such a difficult period, under your leadership, the United States will become a powerful force for stability and prosperity in the world. I wish you and your family health and happiness, and success in your work, as well as the prosperity to the American people.”

The reaction from countries in the Middle East was a bit more mixed. Tensions within the region have grown over the last four years with the increases in drone strikes and rapid changes in leadership with the Arab Spring. The United States’ continued presence in the region will also come under scrutiny as the military begins its 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan. Despite these concerns, many leaders offered their hopeful support to Mr. Obama upon his reelection.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose controversial statements during the election became the center of many debates between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, stated that “I will continue to work with President Obama to preserve the strategic interests of Israel’s citizens.”

A representative for Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai remarked, “The president hopes that with President Obama’s re-election, relations between Afghanistan and the United States, based on bilateral interests, are further expanded.”

Pakistan and Turkey perhaps had the most enthusiastic reactions. A representative of the Pakistani government spoke on behalf of the President, noting that he “… Expressed the hope that the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. would continue to prosper during President Obama’s new term in office.” While Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul stated, “I am delighted to confirm that we share the same vision as you in especially strengthening the economic and trade dimensions of our relations in the next term.”

Not all leaders had positive reactions to Mr. Obama’s re-election. Many stressed the need for different positions from the administration in the next four years. The Hamas Government expressed harsh sentiments: “We listened to the moderate speech by Obama in the wake of his first presidential victory, but his policy did not fit into this discourse and in front of him now is an opportunity to apply what he had promised of the region away from the pressures of the Israeli lobby.”

Mohammad Shtayyeh, aid to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, added, “President Obama has spent four years in the office; unfortunately he hasn’t done much for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Given the current climate in the region and recent events in Gaza, the administration is likely to remain preoccupied with the Middle East for some time. Harsh criticism regarding President Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and escalating tensions between Israel and Iran will pose challenges in the next four years. With the anticipated resignation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, President Obama will have to make critical decisions about who will best be able to handle these situations going forward and adjust policies to address the new challenges and realities on the ground.

 

What are your thoughts about the Obama Administration’s relationship with Asia and the Middle East? Share your thoughts!

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The Campaign and Foreign Policy: The Balance between Obama and Romney (Part II)

Below you will find a continuation which follows our separate commentary on key issues in the campaign and foreign policy.

The So-Called “Rise of China” and Asian Policy:

Romney, as a candidate for the presidency, has shown little awareness of the complexity of our relations with the Chinese and of our long-term objective of engaging this key power in ways that reinforce cooperation and responsibility rather than antagonism. He has yet to outline a comprehensive approach to China that fully addresses all the key problems and their solution or amelioration. Again, his only “strategy” seems to be antagonisms and name calling. He also has little to say except general and uninformed criticism of Obama’s policies about North Korea, Japan, and the problem of South sea conflicts over jurisdiction to otherwise insignificant “islands.” 

Romney criticizes Obama for being “weak” on China despite the administration’s key pivot towards Asia and engagement with Chinese leaders on a multiplicity of fronts, including a trip to China by the Secretaries of State and Defense and our on-going intense economic dialogue at the highest levels.

 

Nor has he said a reasonable word about solving the delicate balances that exists between China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the North Korea nuclear weapons issues.  The man appears out of his depth on any and all of these issues.

President Obama has had now extensive exposure to issues related to China and Asia and made the key decision to establish an American “full court press” towards the Asia/Pacific region.  This is more than simply sending added military assets into the region. It includes significant economic and diplomatic focus and attention.  He has met with just about every key leader in the region and has made numerous trips over the last four years that have added to his understanding of the thinking and view of the decision makers in Asia. The key to his approach is to work very hard on these difficult issues and not exacerbate the existing problems and keep at the effort to seek lasting solutions.   

Middle East and Israeli-Palestine Peace:

This is an issue which will be covered in more detail in another post, but simply put; this is a major tinder box of many different elements with each country’s situation being unique and needing individual attention. The Arab Spring is right, messy, and inevitable and can’t be “controlled” by the U.S. but rather, by the citizens of each country; with help by the international community to support democratic change and protection of human rights.

Romney has closed off any meaningful effort by the U.S. to find peace in the Middle East by his quote in his infamous “47%” speech. His stance on the Israel-Palestine confrontation seems more an effort to gain votes and money from a pro-Israel conservative lobby than to seek a peaceful outcome or a just and lasting security for Israel and Palestine. His speech implies an abandonment of the U.S. supported (for a decade) “two state” solution, which is the only true basis for a lasting peace. He seems to have contracted out American policy in the Middle East to his good friend, the right wing and author of the inappropriate “red line,” demanded by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  The latter interestingly has moderated his stance at the UN General Assembly, perhaps by some observers noting the election poll ratings of Obama and the U.S. opinion polls saying a large proportion of Americans do not favor a war with Iran.

What Romney does not recognize is that his stance undermines the traditional role of honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians and the other Middle East states.  His ignorance of Middle East politics and security issues is mind boggling.

Obama has not given up on seeking peace but the elections here, intransigence by Israel (over new settlements), the Palestinians (over their Humas wing), and the upheavals in the Arab world that require massive attention has frankly put personal engagement on hold until after November. But he has said that America remains committed that Iran will not get nuclear weapons, but will not have Bibi dictate our decisions on going to, what is after all, “war” with all its consequences. Perhaps the Israeli cabinet and citizens recognize now the danger of the “red line” demands on the rightly close relations between the U.S. and Israel.         

Defense Spending and National Security Posture:

Again, here the divide between the Republican right wing, which has taken over the GOP party (including Romney), and Obama could not be greater.  The blind support for more money for defense, the stance on Iran, Middle East upheavals, attitude towards China and Russia, their reliance on “military” options rather than diplomacy, and their cozy relations with the military-industrial lobby dictate a more unstable international landscape if they were to come to power.

Here a key determinate of future effective employment of our military depends on a fundamental assessment, judgment, and knowledge of consequences – all of which is lacking with Romney and his advisers.

Obama has both supported “smart” discrete military actions and largely avoided the stupid ones. His role as Commander-in-Chief has been outstanding compared to his recent predecessor. He both listens to military advice but makes his own judgments and asks the hard questions which have proven wise in most cases, such as his leaving Iraq, his timetable for stopping military combat activities in Afghanistan, and his supervision of making the US military more shaped for future dangers rather than throwing money at projects for wars of decades ago.

 

Sadly, the GOP in Congress has been profligate in wasting billions in massive programs, which often had to be accepted to get some useful reforms agreed to. We need a president that at least is willing to question and decide and think deeply about choices and consequences. Romney even in his speeches, positions, and managing his campaign seems unable to do any of this. There should be budget cuts but they should be smart ones and that is what the Obama administration is trying to do against the current of powerful forces in Washington.

 

Trade and Global Economic Policy:

We will deal with this area in another post, but in sum, Romney and the GOP Platform’s domestic and international economic policy are both a disaster and will result in further deterioration in American and global economy since it is based on false economic theories that have long been proved to be fallacious and counter a growth strategy.

Cutting taxes for the rich seems to be the only basis to their economic policies and nothing else. The GOP platform even has a section asking for a Commission to examine the reestablishment of the previously disastrous gold standard for our currency that would have given gold miners and speculators control over our monetary policy and drive us into a global depression. That shows how out of touch Romney and his party are to economic realities and the need for national and global stimulus effort.

Obama is supported at home and in forums abroad a concerted global growth policy; but European leaders, including the right wing Cameron Tory party went down the GOP proposed path of austerity and the result is a second recession for the UK which thankfully America, under Obama, has avoided.  

Climate Change, Energy policy, and Environmental Issues:

For Romney it is simply “drill baby drill” as a solution to the horrific impact of global warming and its consequences that it will have to our globe. His attacks and that of the GOP in Congress has been to undermine environmental and health related rules and restraints on pollution from fossil fuels and for that matter the dangers of many chemicals that can cause serious harm to American and global health. He even doubts, despite scientific evidence, that man made pollution is to blame and even questions climate change itself…and above all doing anything about it. Case closed!

Obama recognized the criticality of climate change but has had only partial success in addressing the issue, both internationally and at home. But his efforts at bolstering “clean energy” and increasing auto efficiency will help. Internationally getting an agreement with the developing world and with countries like China, Russia and Australia remain a hope.  But to accomplish these goals requires Congress to act; and here Romney and the GOP in Congress are, as they say, “deniers.”  This has also forced Obama to sometimes retreat on promises he made and finds he is not able to accomplish his goals because of the obstruction by the GOP in Congress.   

 

We welcome comments! 

Whither China-U.S Relations on 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s Visit to China

One of the historic events of the 20th century was the initiation of the rapprochement with China under President Nixon with his visit to China in February 1972. This visit was preceded by secret contacts and visits by Henry Kissinger. It was a strategic initiative to both divide further the shaky China-Russia alliance and also acknowledgment of China’s growing role and power in Asia.  The deal turned out to be largely good for both sides over the long-term.

At a time when both the leadership of America will be tested in the November election and China’s own leadership will change to a new generation, there is likely to be a re-assessment within China of that relationship and also some debate in the U.S. about the so-called “rise of China.” Already some in America still want to make China an “enemy.”

The China-American relationship is even more interdependent than the Russian-American relationship. This is true both in terms of magnitude of trade and finance and in terms of human-to-human contacts and communications along a wide spectrum of subjects.  A total disengagement or a conflict that severs most or all ties would be a disaster for each side.

The recent visit of the likely next Chinese president to the U.S. and the degree that the Obama administration has been paying attention to the relationship indicates how import each side weighs that relationship.

But that relationship is not on auto-pilot.  It will take much attention and nurturing.

The issues, agenda, and the options to ensure that the trajectory remains on a positive course include the following:

Trade and Finance: Sooner rather than later there will be a need for a better balance of trade and some understanding on currency rates that will make that balance take place. Not least, China will have to address key issues like rule of law, protection of intellectual property, and investment restrictions, among many other outstanding issues. But this will not be easy and there are strong forces in both countries that support the status quo on individual outstanding questions, fearful that their economic interests will be impacted. A “grand bargain” approach might be useful in this sector.

Regional/Global Security: At some point China will decide whether it will direct its defense forces towards an aggressive forward posture or a more benign direction of adequate defense and reasonable defense establishment focused on Asia and its own defense perimeters. America will have to decide how far to go to enhance its Asian deployment and how it will be configured. The U.S. will have to think about what the Chinese reaction might be. The combination of a too aggressive stance by both sides would be the worst case outcome.

There are two regional tests of China’s international position. One is dealing wisely with the nuclear threat of North Korea, and the second is a peaceful dealing with Taiwan and negotiated settlements of its boundary conflicts with its neighbors. The North Korean nuclear issue has at the moment the greatest need for resolution but the newly installed and untested North Korea leader remains a problematic factor.

– Role of China in World Affairs: China wants a greater role in world affairs in keeping to its enhanced economic power and size.  It already has a veto in the UN Security Council where it seems to exercise its vote in support of the worst nations on the globe. It has senior positions in the World Bank and IMF but not at the top of either one.  Despite being the world’s second economy it probably won’t gain such a role until it changes its discriminatory trade, business, and financial policies.  It undoubtedly would like to see its citizens in these positions and also in other international organizations.

The problem remains that it is not playing, frankly, a fully “responsible” role yet on the global stage as indicated by its veto of sanctions against Syria, its support of the regime of Sudan with its massive violation of human rights, and support of other authoritarian regimes around the world.

So long as this posture continues, China is unlikely to assume a significantly more prominent role in international organizations nor be invited to be part of the most inner circle of global decision makers except on an ad hoc basis where clearly necessary. 

Its own domestic authoritarian and bad human rights record will also hold back its acceptance into the top elite levels of entirely accepted and respected world leadership.  Here other nations need to urge China’s new leaders to consider the advantages of being a reliable “responsible” leader given what it has to gain. The “proof of the pudding” will be when it disassociates from the marginal countries with abhorrent behavior at home and abroad and focuses on cooperation with the responsible and democratic nations that make up the vast majority of the world’s economy, resources, population, and growth. Its dependence on and support of the nasty marginal states is not in its interest and will harm its “rise” to true global leadership.

It is likely that key decision by China’s leaders will be seen in the next couple of years. America can do a lot to advance a positive outcome. First, we need a more intense public diplomacy effort, especially sending American students and professionals on visits to China and making “person-to-person” contact beyond existing levels. We not only need to change the attitude of the Chinese political leaders but of the engaged and growing educated grassroots leadership to convince them that friendship with America is better than enmity. Second, we need to engage China more on solving global challenges like climate change, ocean conservation, nonproliferation, global humanitarian efforts, and support of a global growth strategy.

The stance that America takes will be a key element in their own perception of the gains of acceptance verses a direction of enmity. We have a lot at stake and need to establish an intense full court task force of our top leadership to work on this issue. The good news is that President Obama, judging by his recent actions, recognizes this challenge, which is more than can be said to those seeking his office or, for that matter, the GOP leadership in Congress.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

China’s Incoming Leader Meets President Obama: The Challenge of Shaping the Future

There is much importance in the visit of the Chinese Vice President and soon to be leader of China, Xi Jinping, to the White House.  The transition to a new generation in China has much significance since there is currently a debate in powerful circles in China as to the tack to take with the United States and the role that a “rising” China should take globally.

There are two main arguments being made among the Chinese elite. The first is that China should continue its economic and political reform efforts and that cooperation with the international community and an increase in China’s influence and soft power is the preferred option. The other, backed by some nationalists and military factions, is to push for a more aggressive stance towards America and seek a “rightful dominant” position in Asia. It views American increased focus on Asia, including increase in military presence, as a threat that needs response.

The second option, from any clear analysis, would lead to not only confrontation but also many negative responses from the Asian nations and from the other global powers.  It would threaten China’s own economy, which in large measure depends on trade and economic cooperation with a wide range of countries and institutions. China gains significantly from inward investment, education abroad of its students, and generally more open global engagement abroad, especially in its drive for modernization in science and technology. An aggressive stance could threaten all of this.

More fundamentally, the new leader and his colleagues need to make a choice that the best future for China in both the short and long run is to become a cooperative, positive force on the global stage.  This is the case that Obama must make to Xi and back it with indictments and a comprehensive strategy on the part of the U.S. to shape that outcome. It also needs other nations to approach China in the same hopefully concerted way. This is just the time and place to start that dialogue and to gage if it is one that the new leaders can embrace.

Unfortunately, there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way. First, Xi is still an unknown quantity.  Recent actions, in which he must have participated, have also brought into question which direction China will head. The recent veto with Russia of sanctions against Syria is just one example, as are its sometimes authoritarian actions against its own people, and also its “friendship” with such bad actors as the Sudan, Burma, and Iran. Its trade and financial policies are very protectionist and that issue must be addressed. Frankly, that will take time and we’re likely to see only gradual improvements given the balance of forces internal to China. We may see actions in both directions over the short term given the balance of forces at work in China. 

China has serious internal economic and political problems which are likely to be given priority by the new leadership, which is better educated than in the past. One decision that China needs to make is what, if any, role it wishes to play in getting the global economy back to a growth path. It could help via investment and support of the IMF, the World Bank, and even the European Central Bank’s efforts to stabilize the European economic crisis. All in China’s interest.

President Obama has taken a firm stand on China’s protectionist policies but he has also made dealing with China and Asia a very high priority – as he should. Sadly, he is somewhat defensive in response to the wrong-headed onslaught from the right wing Republicans running for his job and GOP leaders in Congress. There appears not to be a single thoughtful and comprehensive intelligent set of policies from this motley group.  Indeed, the GOP stance has already set Chinese observers on edge and encouraged the Chinese own right-wing elements to call for a more aggressive stance. Fortunately, Obama knows all this, which is more than can be said for his Republican opponents.

This meeting is important but it is only the first stage of engagement with the new Chinese leadership. We will see both ups and downs over the next decade they will be in power. Forces and events greater than either China or the U.S. that will call for cooperation will certainly intervene. There is need to discuss climate change and what we can do to assist China’s horrific health, human rights, and poverty problems.  Not least on that agenda will be North Korea, Taiwan, and the Afghanistan/Pakistan/India/Iraq joint conundrum. Syria is likely to be discussed and the Chinese will want to know America’s military intentions in Asia and we theirs.

There is plenty of room on both sides for creativity in shaping their relationship if they want to see a peaceful and productive rise of both sides to a “win-win” strategy and a stable and secure global environment. We will keep a close watch on developments on this site and welcome comments.

 By Harry C. Blaney III.