PRESIDENT OBAMA’S EUROPEAN TRIP – SETTING A NEW STRATEGIC STANCE AND RETHINKING EUROPEAN SECURITY AND COOPERATION

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By: Harry C. Blaney, III

President Obama’s trip to Europe in the wake of unrest in Eastern Ukraine, invasion in Crimea, and use of Russian military forces to promote rebellion has highlighted again the new European security situation. It also comes in the wake of the European Parliament elections in which the far right made significant gains, but did not take a majority of seats.  Further, the impact of the long lasting recession on the European economy still remains the most significant force against real European progress on many fronts, including security. Continue reading

THE LONG GAME WITH RUSSIA AFTER UKRAINE

gazprom vladivostok.previewTHE LONG GAME WITH RUSSIA AFTER UKRAINE

by Harry C. Blaney III

 

We are in danger of missing an opportunity and ignoring the harsh reality of recent events involving Russia, Ukraine, and the signals that Putin is sending not only to his captive citizens but also to the West. However, one danger and source of misunderstanding of the current situation, as Pogo once said, is “us.” There had been too much ideological posturing and too little fundamental analysis– on both sides of the Atlantic “Pond” of self-serving financial and corporate interests with a myopic focus on their greedy self-interest, lobbying for profits, rather than the security of Europe and the West, in general.

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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! 

Paul Ryan on the Issues: Energy Policy and Climate Change

Climate change and energy policy have seemed to take a back burner during this 2012 presidential election season. But with much of the United States in a drought and many cities experiencing record heat, the candidate’s policies on climate change should be made a part of the campaign dialogue. Mitt Romney has not said much on the issue of climate change except for his belief that “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.” 

The appointment of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate should make conservationists concerned as his policy record on environmentalism and climate change is abysmal. Paul Ryan received a 3% voter rating from the League of Conservation Voters for the 1st Session of the 112th Congress – which is basically as low as you can get.

Ryan’s voting record demonstrates his virulent denial of climate science. Paul Ryan has argued that snow invalidates global warming policy, stating in his 2009 op-ed that “unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow”.  He has stated that climatologists “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change” and has supported legislation that would prevent the limitation of green house gases and block the US Department of Agriculture from preparing for climate disasters.

Here is a sample of his voting record:

Paul Ryan voted to Eliminate EPA limits on Greenhouse Pollution. He voted in favor of H.R. 910 (4/07/11) to block the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas pollution. According to the League of Conservation Voters, this bill would “permanently block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act” and “undermine fuel economy standards. This harmful bill would jeopardize public health and the environment, and increase the nation’s dangerous dependence on oil.

Paul Ryan voted to block the USDA from preparing for climate change. He voted in favor of the Scalise Amendment to the FY12 Agriculture Appropriations bill(6/16/11), to bar the US Department of Agriculture from implementing its Climate Protection Plan.  As stated by the League of Conservation Voters, voting “yes” to this amendment was anti-environment. The League states, “Our nation’s food sources and forests are threatened by the increased severity and variability of climate and weather-related events.  The Agriculture Department is working with farmers, the agriculture industry, and forest managers to prepare for these threats and to develop better farming and forestry practices to help reduce the negative impacts of climate change.”

Paul Ryan voted for Keystone XL Pipeline. Ryan voted to expedite the consideration and approval of the construction and operation of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (7/26/11). Representative Lee Terry (R-NE) sponsored H.R. 1938, the misnamed North American-Made Energy Security Act, to rush a decision on whether to grant a presidential permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline across six states in order to carry tar sands—the dirtiest oil on the planet—from Canada’s boreal forest to an international shipping port in Texas.  The League of Conservation Voters states that “this pipeline would threaten the environment with far more global warming pollution than conventional crude oil and jeopardize surrounding communities, ecosystems, and watersheds.”

Paul Ryan voted against the Energy Efficiency Loan H.R. 4785. This bill (which ultimately passed) aimed to amend the miscellaneous rural development provisions of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to make loans to certain entities that will use the funds to make loans to consumers to implement energy efficiency measures involving structural improvements and investments in cost-effective, commercial off-the-shelf technologies to reduce home energy use. Journalist Deena Shanker, responded to these votes, stating that the fact “that Ryan would oppose cutting tax incentives for oil companies in order to help those working in renewable shows how his support for Americans and their businesses is reserved only for those exploiting the environment”

Paul Ryan budget kept big oil subsides and slashed clean energy investment. Ryan’s FY 2013 Budget Resolution retained a decades’ worth of oil tax breaks worth $40 billion, while slashing funding for investments in clean energy research, development, deployment, and commercialization, along with other energy programs. The plan called for a $3 billion cut in energy programs in FY 2013 alone.

In addition to his opposition to meaningful action to reduce global warming pollution, Paul Ryan’s budget called for “drastic cuts in federal spending on energy research and development and for the outright elimination of subsidies and tax breaks for wind, solar power and other alternative energy technologies.”

In order to solve the very real climate crisis that the world is facing, we need political leadership that recognizes the need for action and will fight for policies that move us toward a clean energy economy.

We welcome your comments!

For more information on Paul Ryan and his views check out our page: Paul Ryan on the Issues

The Energy Debate, National Security, and a Sane Energy Policy

President Obama during a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma: “We want every source of American-made energy. I don’t want the energy jobs of tomorrow going to other countries. I want them here in theUnited States of America. And that’s what an all-of-the-above strategy is all about. That’s how we break our dependence on foreign oil.”

President Obama during a visit to Copper Mountain Solar 1 plant: “If some politicians get their way, there won’t be any more public investments in solar energy. These folks dismiss the promise of solar power and wind power and fuel-efficient cars. . . . If these people were around whenColumbus set sail, they would’ve been founding members of the Flat Earth Society.”

Mitt Romney on energy: “I will ensure we utilize to the fullest extent our nation’s nuclear know-how and immense reserves in oil, gas and coal. We are an energy-rich country that, thanks to environmental extremism, has chosen to live like an energy-poor country. That has to end.”

Mitt Romney on climate change: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Mitt Romney on energy: “I think the EPA, acting in concert with the president, really doesn’t like oil, gas, coal, and nuclear. I really do believe that the EPA wants to get its hands on all of energy and be able to crush it to cause prices to go through the roof. …The EPA should not be regulating carbon dioxide.”

Rick Santorum on oil: “This president, systematically, is doing everything he can to raise the price of energy in this country. He’s shutting down all sorts of opportunities for us to drill for oil. This is what the president’s agenda is. It’s not about you. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”

Rick Santorum on “Face the Nation”: “Well, I was talking about the radical environmentalists. That’s why I was talking about energy, this idea that man is here to serve the Earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth. And I think that is a phony ideal. I don’t believe that that’s what we’re here to do. That man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth. But we’re not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. And I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside down.”

There are only a few subjects that have become more “silly” during this season of presidential and congressional debates than energy policy and its related environmental and economic impacts and consequences. First point is that President Obama is largely right in that we live in a global energy market and most prices reflect the supply and demand of that market. Except when they don’t. 

I saw this when I was the Member of the Policy Planning staff following energy issues, among other subjects, for the Secretary of State in the 1970s, during the then “energy crisis.” At that time I played a significant role in helping to develop our response to what was in reality an artificial effort by the Arab oil producing states to control the international market and raise prices along with an effort to boycott some importing nations.   

There are today “artificial,” “emotional,” and “political” aspects of national and international energy markets. Many examples abound since the 1970s. Recently, the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources in Saudi Arabia, Ali Naimi, wrote an article for the Financial Times, on Thursday, March 29th 2012, entitled “Saudi Arabia will act to lower soaring oil prices.”  His article illustrates how the global energy market is both driven by normal supply and demand and also by artificial, external, and not always rational influences. In short, he outlined that there is no shortage of oil on a global basis, stocks are full (this was confirmed by another article that noted that our main stocks here in the U.S. are also full). Naimi also said, “there is no rational reason why oil prices are continuing to remain at these high levels. It is the perceived potential shortage of oil keeping oil prices high.” His further statement was that Saudi Arabia “…will use spare production capacity to supply the oil market with any additional required volumes.” No while other “experts” have questioned if Saudi Arabia can in reality do this, those that know the spare capacity think it is doable.

The question remains when this “spare capacity” will be effective and hit the global market. Right now Saudi holding tanks are filled and Naimi noted that its capacity is 12.5 million barrels per day “way beyond current levels.”

President Obama is rightly struggling to reduce our imports of Middle East oil and has made significant progress, not least increasing the efficiency of our cars, in this effort but our allies in Europe and Asia will need Saudi oil, especially if a war starts in the region or Iran oil is “taken off the market.” 

So what is the Republican complaint?  They are wrong about “drill baby drill” since such oil is at least a year or more away from getting into our gas guzzling cars. Nor will more oil be the long-term answer to global warming.  

The Republicans oppose cutting the massive subsidies of many billions of dollars we are adding to the already massive profits the major oil companies are making even at these high prices. And most importantly for our national security interests, they oppose Obama’s effort to develop advanced clean energy alternatives to oil and coal. They do not address or deal with our real national security to safeguard our global climate and our earth’s ecosystem. 

Obama seems more likely to effectively address both the energy issues our nation faces and its concomitant massive and dangerous climate change impacts than candidates that will, at the expense of middle class Americans, continue to do the bidding of big oil and make irresponsible jesters of wanting to make now an unnecessary “war” on Iran. They must be happy that their talk of war has already given big profits to the oil companies at the expense of citizens who see fewer dollars in their pockets. Their “war mongering” only means great jumps in gas prices to the average American and leaves the rich and oil companies with even more money to influence our politics and our democratic system. We need real world solutions, a rational sensible debate, and not efforts to undermine both our real security and our economy.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

For more quotes by the 2012 presidential candidates, please visit our quotes page!