Member since: Fri Aug 20, 2004, 05:59 PM
Number of posts: 27,530
Number of posts: 27,530
America, Syria and the UN
This is what foreign-policy success looks like
NOWHERE near enough attention is being paid to the way the diplomacy around the Syrian civil war is playing out. Nowhere near enough. The other day I noted that nothing had made me as pessimistic about development aid as the endgame of our failed intervention in Afghanistan. Today let me paint a stroke in the other direction: nothing has made me as optimistic recently about the prospects for a broadly international, pro-human-rights, anti-authoritarian foreign policy that brings together America, the democratic world, and many of the emerging-market/non-aligned countries as what's happening right now around the Syria question. The complete isolation of Russia and China in the Security Council vote on sanctions last week is a watershed moment. It not only, as my colleague writes, cemented the image of Russia and China backed into a corner together in defence of authoritarianism. It also strengthened the tentative cohesion formed during the Libyan revolution last year between the democratic West, Arab democracy movements, and the Arab League.
“The Western criticism was echoed in the Middle East, where Arab powers like Saudi Arabia and non-Arab Turkey have turned decisively against Assad in recent months.
This is simply extraordinary....
I could go on, but I'm really just supplying more and more examples to underscore the basic point. For the past three years America has been walking softly, and it's working very, very well. Ten years back, America often found itself isolated, struggling to pull together "coalitions of the willing" packed with small client states. Lately, we have been finding ourselves in the majority, along with the democratic world, while Russia and China front a dwindling coalition of the unwilling. To some extent, this reflects a smart, subtle foreign-policy presence in which we have done a vastly better job of looking at what other countries actually want, and seeing where our interests align, rather than trying to bully other countries into supporting our goals. To some extent, it's luck: the Arab spring happened.
And to some extent, there's a personal factor. Look through the Pew Global Attitudes project data on confidence in the US president. In almost every country, you'll see a dramatic or startling increase in confidence between 2008 and 2011. In Germany and France, George Bush had approval ratings in the low teens in 2008; Barack Obama's approval has never dropped below 80%. In Japan and Britain the shift is nearly as striking. In Egypt, the corresponding figures are 11% and 35%. Even in Russia itself, they are 22% and 41%. When Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice try to win backing for American positions at the UN, the exceptional popularity of the president they represent in other countries is obviously a factor. Commentators who envision Barack Obama running on his foreign-policy successes in this year's campaign generally adduce examples like the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the crippling of al-Qaeda. Perhaps these are the examples that figure most clearly in the American voter's imagination. It would be nice, though, if voters evaluated presidents' foreign policies on the basis of whether they had won the respect of the world and advanced American interests internationally. The evidence of recent American foreign-policy effectiveness isn't that we've shot a lot of bad guys. It's that when our UN ambassador calls the Chinese and Russian vetoes of action on Syria "disgusting", she's speaking for the overwhelming majority of the world, and they are in the isolated minority.
Posted by Pirate Smile | Wed Feb 8, 2012, 09:12 PM (14 replies)
Gen. David Petraeus: ‘The troops can’t quit’
“It’s ‘open the envelope time,’ ” Gen. David Petraeus told his security team as his SUV approached the White House on June 21, 2011, for his final meeting with President Obama on the drawdown of forces from Afghanistan. Petraeus had returned to Washington from his command in Kabul for consultations with Obama on the drawdown, and for a Senate committee hearing on his nomination to become the next director of the CIA. On the way from the Pentagon, retired Army general Jack Keane, a mentor and former vice chief of staff of the Army, e-mailed Petraeus with rumors of what he was hearing: The White House was going to recommend 10,000 troops depart by the end of 2011, with the remaining 23,000 surge forces out by the summer of 2012, a far more drastic timetable for withdrawal than Petraeus had recommended.
“Biden wins, Petraeus loses” was the headline the following morning as news of the president’s decision began to leak. “That’s not the issue,” Petraeus told one of his conﬁdants. “This is not about one person’s rep; it’s about achieving our national objectives.”
Keane, the retired general, denounced the decision and told Petraeus in another e-mail that it appeared to undermine his counterinsurgency campaign just as it was ﬁnally gaining momentum. “My god, Dave, they just pushed your recommendations aside and changed the war fundamentally. What a mess,” Keane wrote. Petraeus did not respond.
Conservative writer Max Boot, whom Petraeus respected, was outraged by the speech. He told Petraeus that if he wanted to quit and run for president, he would work on his campaign. Petraeus told him quitting was not the answer. He certainly didn’t intend to run for president, either. As a student and practitioner of civil-military relations, Petraeus had thought at length about the subject of resignation in protest, turning it over in his mind many times. He was well steeped in the theory and practice and pitfalls of civil-military relations. Military decision making and the use of force as they related to civil-military relations had been foundations of his doctoral research.
Petraeus fully subscribed to the oath of office, including obeying “the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over me.” Obama’s decision to draw down forces faster than he had recommended did not, in his mind, begin to approach the threshold for such an extraordinary action as resignation. He thought it would have been a selfish, grandstanding move with huge political ramiﬁcations. He had had ample opportunity to provide input and give his best advice, and now it was time to salute and carry on.
Excerpted from “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus” by Paula Broadwell with Washington Post staff writer Vernon Loeb, to be published by Penguin Press on Monday.
Posted by Pirate Smile | Mon Jan 23, 2012, 10:31 AM (1 replies)
Why You Cannot Say You 'Like' Firing People
He was making a reasonable point about the need for choice and competition -- just as John Kerry was making a reasonable point about the different stages of the legislative process when he said "I actually voted for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." It was completely "unfair" to use that line against Kerry, because if you stopped to listen to his reasoning, the phrase was merely one clumsy out-of-context portion of a larger "sensible" statement about how Congressional politics works. Exactly as with Romney and "firing."
But of course that clip hurt Kerry -- in part because the Bush campaign team immediately rammed it home, and in part because it connected with an existing vulnerability or impression about Kerry. I think this moment from Romney may hurt him too, for all the "unfairness" of criticizing what he said, because it touches something so emotional and raw.
It's the word fire. I have fired people, and I have been fired -- and there is no comparison in how much more excruciating the former process is. I know, agree with, and have even written a book about all the reasons why "flexibility" in the labor force is a good thing for companies and for the overall economy. People need to be held accountable for good or bad performance. Economies need to be able to move from the old -- old markets, technologies, regions, emphases -- and open up to the new. Companies very often need to "right-size" to survive. We all understand these truths. They are part of America's strength.
But people with any experience on either side of a firing know that, necessary as it might be, it is hard. Or it should be. It's wrenching, it's humiliating, it disrupts families, it creates shame and anger alike -- notwithstanding the fact that often it absolutely has to happen. Anyone not troubled by the process -- well, there is something wrong with that person. We might want such a person to do dirty work for us. (This might be the point where the Romney campaign wants to take another look at Up In The Air.) We might value him or her as a takeover specialist or at a private equity firm. But as someone we trust, as a leader? No - not any more than you can trust a military leader who is not deeply troubled when his troops are killed.
Here's a test: If you were making the point about the need for competition, can you imagine yourself saying, "I like being able to fire people..." ?
I don't think this will stop Romney in New Hampshire or in his likely progress to the nomination. It may not make any difference in the general election. But for me, it's a bell difficult to un-ring -- "I like being able to fire people" -- once it has been heard.
Posted by Pirate Smile | Mon Jan 9, 2012, 10:05 PM (54 replies)
Obama's 'analytical' Israel policies
Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, has an op-ed in the LA Times that looks at the difficult relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Miller's take is that the president is fundamentally pro-Israel, but that his policies towards the Jewish state are more analytical than emotional — and this is the real origin of the tension between the president and Netanyahu:
The main source of Obama's view of Israel lies in his broader assessment of conflict and how problems are resolved. Obama didn't get his vision of Israel from the movie "Exodus," in which the Israelis are cowboys and the Arabs are Indians. Nor does he have Clinton's Southern Baptist Bible sensibilities or Bush's evangelical ones relating to Israel as the Holy Land.
Obama's views came from another place: his own logic, the university environment in which he developed intellectually and his own moral sensibilities. And according to this view, the Arab-Israeli dispute isn't some kind of morality play that pits the forces of good against the forces of darkness. Instead, it's a more complex tale, not of heroes and villains but of a conflict between two rights and two just causes. It's also a conflict that is vital to American interests. And those interests are being threatened by the divide between those who want a solution and are serious about moving toward one, and those who aren't serious about finding a solution and throw up obstacles. After three years, the president has clearly placed the Israelis in the latter category and the Palestinians in the former.
The tendency to look at Israel analytically instead of emotionally, and to view the conflict through a national-interest prism rather than some sort of moral filter, dovetails with Obama's poisonous relationship with Netanyahu. Obama doesn't like him, doesn't trust him and views him as a con man. The Israeli prime minister has frustrated and embarrassed Obama and gotten in the way of the president's wildly exaggerated hopes for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he's been pursuing with more enthusiasm than viable strategy since his inauguration.
Posted by Pirate Smile | Mon Jan 2, 2012, 02:46 PM (1 replies)
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