Posts Tagged ‘ obama ’

Beltway Foreign Policy

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By Roger Cohen for The New York TImes 

“It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”

This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”

Nasr, one of the most respected American authorities on the Middle East, served as senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan until his death in December 2010. From that vantage point, and later as a close observer, Nasr was led to the reluctant conclusion that the principal aim of Obama’s policies “is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion.”

In this sense the first-term Obama foreign policy was successful: He was re-elected. Americans wanted extrication from the big wars and a smaller global footprint: Obama, with some back and forth, delivered. But the price was high and opportunities lost.

“The Dispensable Nation” constitutes important reading as John Kerry moves into his new job as secretary of state. It nails the drift away from the art of diplomacy — with its painful give-and-take — toward a U.S. foreign policy driven by the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and short-term political calculus. It holds the president to account for his zigzags from Kabul to Jerusalem.

It demonstrates the emasculation of the State Department: Nasr quotes Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, telling him of Hillary Clinton that, “It is incredible how little support she got from the White House. They want to control everything.” And it paints a persuasive picture of an American decline driven not so much by the inevitable rise of other powers as by “inconsistency” that has “cast doubt on our leadership.”

Nowhere was this inconsistency more evident than in Afghanistan. Obama doubled-down by committing tens of thousands more troops to show he was no wimp, only to set a date for a drawdown to show he was no warmonger. Marines died; few cared.

He appointed Holbrooke as his point man only to ensure that he “never received the authority to do diplomacy.” Obama’s message to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was: “Ignore my special representative.” The White House campaign against Holbrooke was “a theater of the absurd,” Nasr writes. “Holbrooke was not included in Obama’s videoconferences with Karzai and was cut out of the presidential retinue when Obama went to Afghanistan.”

The White House seemed “more interested in bringing Holbrooke down than getting the policy right.” The pettiness was striking: “The White House kept a dossier on Holbrooke’s misdeeds and Clinton kept a folder on churlish attempts by the White House’s AfPak office to undermine Holbrooke.”

Diplomacy died. Serious negotiation with the Taliban and involving Iran in talks on Afghanistan’s future — bold steps that carried a domestic political price — were shunned. The use of trade as a bridge got scant attention. Nasr concludes on Afghanistan: “We are just washing our hands of it, hoping there will be a decent interval of calm — a reasonable distance between our departure and the catastrophe to follow.”

In Pakistan, too nuclear to ignore, the ultimate “frenemy,” Nasr observed policy veering between frustrated confrontation and half-hearted attempts to change the relationship through engagement. “The crucial reality was that the Taliban helped Pakistan face down India in the contest over Afghanistan,” Nasr writes. America was never able to change that equation. Aid poured in to secure those nukes and win hearts and minds: Drones drained away any gratitude. A proposed “strategic dialogue” went nowhere. “Pakistan is a failure of American policy, a failure of the sort that comes from the president handing foreign policy over to the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies.”

In Iran, Nasr demonstrates Obama’s deep ambivalence about any deal on the nuclear program. “Pressure,” he writes, “has become an end in itself.” The dual track of ever tougher sanctions combined with diplomatic outreach was “not even dual. It relied on one track, and that was pressure.” The reality was that, “Engagement was a cover for a coercive campaign of sabotage, economic pressure and cyberwarfare.”

Opportunities to begin real step-by-step diplomacy involving Iran giving up its low-enriched uranium in exchange for progressive sanctions relief were lost. What was Tehran to think when “the sum total of three major rounds of diplomatic negotiation was that America would give some bits and bobs of old aircraft in exchange for Iran’s nuclear program”?

On Israel-Palestine, as with Iran, Obama began with some fresh ideas only to retreat. He tried to stop Israeli settlement expansion. Then he gave up when the domestic price looked too high. The result has been drift.

“The Dispensable Nation” is a brave book. Its core message is: Diplomacy is tough and carries a price, but the price is higher when it is abandoned.

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NATO Summit May Pose Few Political Risks For Obama

By Lynn Sweet for The Chicago Sun Times

With the American public — and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney — focused on the economy, President Barack Obama may not have much at stake politically if there are diplomatic flaps at the NATO Summit in Chicago.

And since Obama already signed a “Strategic Partnership Agreement” with Afghanistan to have most U.S. troops out in 2014 — he flew to Kabul for the May 1 signing — there may not be much of a price to pay domestically if pressure comes from the new president of France and other NATO partners in Afghanistan to shorten the timetable.

And if all heck breaks loose in Obama’s hometown from protesters? Well, a riot in a president’s hometown at a global summit is obviously not good. But the ramifications may not be far reaching. As political time goes, the presidential election is light-years away.

“Nobody in November will remember what happened,” an Obama team source told me. It will be a short news cycle on the cable outlets “and a month in the [Chicago] papers.”

Romney’s team headquartered in Boston is hardly paying attention to the NATO gathering and was not, when I visited on Friday, sizing it up as an obvious political opportunity for them because they want an almost exclusive focus on the economy.

The rapidly expanding Romney operation (overlooking the Charles River) on Friday was ramping up the “message of the week” theme for this week — on government spending. Romney hits the Chicago area on Tuesday for a fund-raiser at the Winnetka home of Pat Ryan — the insurance mogul and civic activist — and his wife, Shirley.

The Romney campaign could mull commenting on some policy difference that emerges — but that would depend on the specifics and if strategically it paid for them to go off message. Same goes if protests get ugly or it there is some serious security incident. It all depends on the situation, I’m told.

Obama’s biggest diplomatic stake

The biggest diplomatic stakes for Obama are the package of issues surrounding Afghanistan, made more complex because of the election of a new French president.

Three announcements are expected at the Chicago NATO Summit: When in 2013 the combat mission in Afghanistan shifts to supporting the Afghan National Security Forces; how much support, financial and otherwise the “ANSF” will get from NATO partners; and agreement on a “roadmap” for NATO’s post-2014 role in Afghanistan.

France’s new president, Francois Hollande — a Socialist — will be sworn in on Monday. He campaigned on a platform to pull out French combat troops by the end of 2012.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Chicago NATO Summit on Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon was asked by committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) about Hollande.

Obama at the last NATO Summit — in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010 — got the Afghanistan partners to agree to the 2014 timetable, Gordon noted.

“The French assure us that they are committed to our common success in Afghanistan, and I’m sure we’ll find a way forward that ensures that common success. All I can do is speak to our own view, which is that this principle of ‘in together, out together’ remains critical,” Gordon said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has much more at stake in the summit — as Obama’s former chief of staff, he grabbed the Summit, seeing it as a terrific opportunity to showcase Chicago. But he neglected to get buy-in from rank-and-file Chicagoans who see the inconveniences more than the advantages.

Emanuel has just one portfolio for the NATO Summit as host mayor. Though he once did while in the White House, Emanuel this week doesn’t have to worry about the future of NATO, transatlantic security, ballistic missiles, Russia, free and fair elections in Afghanistan and how to make NATO allies take on their fair share of financial responsibilities and spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Obama wanted the summit to be in Chicago in part because he wanted to show off for foreign leaders a city that relishes it diversity — with almost every ethnic group that is part of NATO and its partners.

The last U.S. NATO Summit was in 1999; this is the first outside of Washington.

“In addition to the opportunity to showcase one of our nation’s great cities, our hosting of the summit in Chicago is a tangible symbol of the importance of NATO to the United States. It is also an opportunity to underscore to the American people the continued value of this alliance to security challenges we face today,” Gordon said at the Senate hearing.

Emanuel, on the other hand, wanted the summit to drum up business for Chicago.

My thought is Emanuel far more than Obama owns the summit if things go wrong — and will likely bear the brunt even though the Secret Service is taking the lead coordinating security.

Emanuel will find it harder to change the subject if there are horrible demonstrations. Obama, working off a national and global stage — will be able to move on if all that goes wrong are protests.

“Foreign policy in the minds of the American people right now is not nearly as important as it has been in past elections,” Brookings Institution scholar William Galston told me. “… They are focused almost exclusively on the economy.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley noted when we talked that demonstrations at world summits “are not unique to Barack Obama or to America today.

“Demonstrations happen every time there is a big gathering now of any leaders of the world anywhere,” Daley said.

I asked Daley if the fact the summit is in hometown Chicago raises the stakes for Obama.

He said no. “Just cause it was his hometown people would say, ‘boy, he could not control his home therefore we are not going to vote for him as president.’ … I don’t see it. … Obviously, it wouldn’t help. But I don’t see the American people holding him responsible for what may or may not happen by demonstrators who come from all over the country and all over the world to the city.”

Cost Of Wars In Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan To Reach $3.7 Trillion: Report

By Elise Foley for The Huffington Post

Costs of War: 225,000 Lives and up to US$4 Trillion from Watson Institute on Vimeo.

WASHINGTON — The United States will have spent a total of $3.7 trillion on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, costing 225,000 lives and creating 7.8 million refugees, by the time the conflicts end, according to a report released on Wednesday by Brown University.

The report, written by more than 20 economists, political scientists, lawyers, anthropologists and humanitarian personnel for Brown’s Watson Institute for International Studies, gives staggering estimates for the cost of military action in those three countries. Nearly ten years since U.S. troops first entered Afghanistan, the report estimates the final cost of all three conflicts will be between $3.7 trillion and $4.4 trillion — far higher than the $1 trillion price tag referenced by President Barack Obama earlier this year. The report estimates the U.S. government has already spent between $2.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion and will spend at least a trillion more over the next fifty years.

In a video op-ed exclusive to HuffPost, some of the report’s authors explained the high costs — both past and future — of the wars.

Long-term obligations to war veterans will cause the price tag of the conflicts to climb for decades after troops have returned home. The report puts the cost of health care for veterans at between $600 to $950 billion, not peaking until the 2050s.

“Wars, in a sense, are never over when they’re over,” Catherine Lutz, a Brown University anthropologist, said in the video op-ed. “They go on for decades, and the peak costs for this war will be incurred forty years from now.”

Because the wars have had no true front-lines, there have been a huge number of injuries, primarily to young people serving in the military. There has been a particularly large amount of casualties in Pakistan, the report says.

“The costs have been borne unevenly,” Lutz said. “The military families, contractor families, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, have borne a tremendous cost.”

Even just paying the interest on the United States’ war debt will be a large endeavor, according to the report, at a time when the country is set to exceed its current debt limit of $14.29 trillion. The government has already paid about $185 billion in interest on war spending, and could accrue another $1 trillion — an amount not included in the $3.7 trillion estimate — in interest by 2020, according to the report.

“We have borrowed virtually all of the money that has been used to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and that has been very expensive, adding at least $1.5 trillion to our national debt,” Linda Bilmes, an economist with Harvard University, said in the video op-ed.

Now the country is at a decision point, aligned with the current showdown over a deal to raise the debt ceiling by August.

“There is immense and urgent requirement to learn from the experience of the past decade and to try to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes all over again,” Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University military historian and veteran, said in the video.

Nominee Questions Pakistan’s Battle Plan

By Julian E Barnes for The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—The Marine general chosen by President Barack Obama to lead the Afghanistan war raised doubts about Pakistan’s willingness to go after militants who cross the Afghan border to attack U.S. and allied troops.

In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. John Allen also said he believed that the Afghan insurgency’s momentum has been halted and even reversed in key parts of the country, and backed Mr. Obama’s troop drawdown plans.

But Pakistan, as a haven for militants, looms large over the war in Afghanistan. Gen. Allen said Pakistan continues to “hedge” against a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by supporting anti-American militant groups, including the Haqqani network.

The statements were a rare public show of military skepticism about Pakistan’s intentions, reflecting the military’s increasing view that relations with Pakistan are deteriorating.

Gen. Allen, deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, argued that it would be ultimately in Islamabad’s interest to expel militant groups from their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

“We will encourage and will continue to encourage our Pakistani friends to bring pressure to bear upon those safe havens,” he said. “It’s not just good for the outcome of our strategy and for the president’s vision on the outcome in Afghanistan; it’s good for Pakistan as well.”

Appearing alongside Gen. Allen, Adm. William McRaven, nominated to lead Special Operations Command, also said Pakistan is unlikely to move against the frontier militant havens anytime soon.

The admiral oversaw the Navy SEAL team that last month killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in a Pakistani garrison town.

The officers’ testimony shined a light on the fragile state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, which have grown combative in the wake of the bin Laden raid.

Military leaders have made plain they are displeased with the declining cooperation by Pakistan, but insist the U.S. can’t walk away from the relationship.

“We’re giving them $4 billion,” said Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass.). “And yet sometimes we don’t know if they’re in or they’re out, are they with us or [are] they not?”

After Adm. McRaven said Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is likely hiding in Pakistan, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) demanded Pakistan hand him over.

Pakistani officials have said limited military capacity—not lack of will—is inhibiting their operations against militant groups.

Gen. Allen said he backs President Obama’s decision to pull 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan this year, and the remaining 23,000 surge troops by the end of next summer. After the drawdown, the U.S. would still have 68,000 troops in the country, he said.

But he acknowledged that the military didn’t recommend a drawdown schedule as aggressive as the one Mr. Obama chose.

Under questioning from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.), a critic of the Obama administration’s drawdown plan, Gen. Allen suggested that if conditions deteriorate he would advise Mr. Obama to alter the plan.

“It is my responsibility to the chain of command and to our commander-in-chief to ensure—should I be concerned about the progress or the execution of the campaign—that I so advise the chain of command,” he said.

Neither the Afghan Taliban nor the Haqqani network has directly targeted the Pakistani government. And Islamabad remains wary of a hasty U.S. withdrawal and sees the militant networks as potential future allies in Afghanistan.

Gen. Allen said even as troops leave Afghanistan, the military would continue to implement its current counterinsurgency strategy, which is aimed at protecting civilians from the insurgents while helping the government extend its reach and legitimacy.

Sen. Graham asked if Gen. Allen would have enough forces to continue that strategy, which requires large numbers of troops to secure population centers.

“How can we maintain counterinsurgency if all the surge forces have gone?” Sen. Graham asked.

Will India Win Coveted UN Seat?

By Sunil Sharan for The Huffington Post

Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao says Pakistan is hypnotically obsessed with India but she and her bosses too are fixated on a coveted prize, a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. The mandarins of New Delhi must be pleased as punch to have had over to visit leaders of all five permanent member countries in quick succession. Inexorable appears the march but will India find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? And, if it does, what are the implications for itself as well as for Pakistan?

First in was David Cameron of Britain, who arrived during the summer and offered unstinting support, whetting local appetite for the main American course. And, did he fail to disappoint? No sir, Barack Obama set the cat amongst the pigeons by endorsing India for the seat, the first time ever by the US. India rejoiced while Pakistan recoiled.

But a careful examination shows him adhering closely to what he told Bob Woodward in the book, Obama’s Wars. In lieu of the seat, he expects India to resolve Kashmir. At a press conference with Manmohan Singh, Obama characterized Kashmir as a long-standing dispute making the latter stutter that the K-word was not scary. Only then did Obama hand over the endorsement in India’s Parliament but couched in such diplomatese that countless local hair were split over when “the years ahead” would dawn.

Next waltzed in Nicolas Sarkozy of France. The French, like the British, have consistently seen merit in India’s case. Sarkozy though, true to type, proved an enigma. He first tagged on the applications of Africa, the Arabs and pretty much the rest of the world onto India’s, befuddling his hosts, who are willing to concede as equal aspirants only “self-appointed frontrunners” Germany, Japan and Brazil. Just as they were about to give up on him, Sarkozy warmed the cockles of India’s heart by throwing in 2011 as early as when it could make it.

But soon came the caveat. Sarkozy, just like Obama before him, cautioned that with great power status came great responsibilities. Whereas Obama wanted India to be more mindful of human rights violations of countries such as Iran and Myanmar, Sarkozy wanted India to send military forces to keep world peace. With India already being one of the foremost contributors to UN peacekeeping missions throughout the world, the mandarins of New Delhi must have been left wondering what more was being asked of them.

No matter, three down, two to go. By now the state jets were landing at Delhi airport almost on top of one another. Wen Jiabao, the leader India was least looking forward to, came with the master key to entry. Shortly before his visit, WikiLeaks revealed China’s opposition to any council expansion. Indian hopes were up nevertheless but Wen remained inscrutable, willing only to acknowledge an understanding of India’s aspirations. No one in India knew quite what to make of him and since Wen was off to Pakistan next, all the country could do was wait with clenched teeth to hear what he would say there.

Rounding off the passage to India was Dmitry Medvedev. Relations between Russia and India have frayed considerably since the heady days of the cold war, so much so that Russia has waffled on India’s bid. Medvedev signaled that the waffle still needed baking, voicing support for India while reiterating that reforming the council was tough and required consensus.

All the while Pakistan protested vociferously against what it deemed an indulgence of Indian hegemonism. But what will India gain with a permanent UN seat? Could it block Pakistani claims on Kashmir? True a permanent member wielding veto power can stonewall but the veto seems unattainable for seekers since they themselves have forsaken it. And, while India sees red when the K-word is uttered in the UN by Pakistan, no ascension to permanency can make it strangle the latter. Nor can it efface any past security council resolutions.

So then, what is it? Nothing comes to mind but the obvious, the acceptance that any arriviste craves. Even that appears a false hankering because ever since its early years, Gandhi’s legacy and Nehru’s charisma burnished the country with global influence disproportionate to its economic and military capabilities. A bee once in one’s bonnet is hard to get rid of though. And, as every journey must have a fitting end, India has found a destination to its liking.

Flush with cash, New Delhi wants to beef up its military. All of the recent visitors bar China are major suppliers of defence equipment to India. As bees flock to honey, they arrived armed with catalogues of the most terrifying stuff. Inherent was a delicate diplomatic quid-pro-quo. The more arms you buy from us, the more we will push your candidacy. As Islamabad keeps raising the bar for India’s seat, so too will India have to up its arms binge.

Lost in Pakistan’s current rhetoric was its vote in October to put India in the security council for two years beginning January 1, 2011. Once on, we will never get off is the new mantra of India’s brave. India seemingly returned the favor by taking in stride the sale of Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan. Is there more afoot than meets the eye?

Every country is entitled to its obsession. Pakistan’s is obvious. By continually thumbing its nose at a NATO mired in Afghanistan, it has put the K-word in spotlight, albeit on the backstage. A deal has been blessed by the powers that be. Both the seat and Srinagar are not far away.

The writer edits a website on India: http://www.scooptime.com.

Imran Khan Moves Supreme Court Against Drone Attacks

As reported on Despardes.com

Cricketing legend-turned politician Imran Khan has filed a lawsuit in Pakistan’s apex court asking it to declare drone attacks as war crimes.

According to published reports, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief on Wednesday filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to declare drone attacks as attacks on the sovereignty and defence of Pakistan and a war crime.

The petition, filed by Imran Khan’s lawyer Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, argues that the provisions of logistics and facilities to any foreign country or alliance for mass destruction through drone strikes inside the territory of Pakistan resulting into killings of Pakistani citizen is illegal, unwarranted, unconstitutional, in violation the United Nations Charter, universal declaration of human rights, international law as well as the international humanitarian law, a war crime and an attack on the sovereignty, solidarity, integrity and defence of Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s petition was filed today after a Lahore court Lahore cort ruled against drone strikes and called on the government to take appropriate measures to halt strikes by unmanned drones in Pakistan if they aren’t approved by Islamabad.

Federal authorities should take measures to stop drone attacks in Pakistan if they are carried out without formal approval, the court said on Wednesday. The court was responding to a petition that said drone strikes were a violation of national sovereignty.

Drone attacks have increased under the authority of U.S. President Barack Obama, notably inside Pakistan. The CIA, a civilian entity, said it is acting according to the code of law in carrying out the strikes.

Pakistan’s government publicly objects to the attacks, saying they violate its sovereignty. But it is widely thought there is a tacit agreement between the U.S. intelligence agency, the CIA, and Islamabad to allow such strikes, reported Voice of America on its website today.(http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Suspected-US-Missile-Strike-Kills-10-in-Pakistan-97396999.html)

Two missiles believed fired Tuesday by an unmanned drone struck a village in the tribal regions of Pakistan, killing militants including Hamza al-Jufi, an Egyptian allied with al-Qaida.

India and Pakistan’s Leaders Meet

As reported by BBC.com

Pakistan PM Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at a reception hosted by the US President Barack Obama, reports said. The prime ministers of India and Pakistan met briefly during a nuclear summit attended by 47 world leaders in Washington DC.

A Pakistani embassy spokesman said it was “not a formal meeting”. cIt comes a day after Mr Singh told Mr Obama that Pakistan’s government lacked the will to punish those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. The November 2008 attacks left 174 people dead, including nine gunmen, and soured ties between India and Pakistan. Late last year, Pakistan charged seven people in connection with the attacks.

They include the suspected mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who is allegedly the leader of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Mr Singh and Mr Gilani spoke to each other at a reception hosted by Mr Obama, Pakistani embassy spokesman Nadeem Kiani said.

“Both leaders were present at the same place and so they shook hands and talked,” he said. A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, Vishnu Prakash, told The Hindu newspaper that the two leaders “exchanged pleasantries”.
‘State elements’

India put peace talks on hold after the attacks, blaming them on Pakistan-based militants. Pakistan admitted they had been partly planned on its soil. India has also suggested what it calls “state elements” were involved. Both Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba have denied any involvement.

In February, the two sides held their first formal talks since the 2008 attacks and agreed to “remain in touch”. Leaders from 40 states are attending the meeting in Washington which is expected to focus on how to secure nuclear material.

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