Coward Old Universe…

by Jeremy G.

Posts Tagged ‘US Foreign Policy’

Bush’s Lost Gamble

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on December 4, 2008

Many are already drawing the lessons from the Bush Era. In my opinion, history, only, will provide the best assessment of the Bush presidency. In the short run, though, odds are against Bush because of the situation in Afghanistan and the failure to manage the Iraqi issue, but also because he opted, at the very beginning, for a strategy that would have never allowed him to emerge as a popular or be perceived as a responsible leader.

Historian Niall Ferguson, discussing the “problem of conjecture,” puts it best:

… preemption is doomed to be unpopular. Its success can never be proven. And its failure is far more costly than the consequences of mere negligence. Were another major terrorist attack to happen now – which can never be ruled out – President Bush would surely overtake Richard Nixon, and perhaps all other previous occupants in the White House, in the unpopularity stakes. With one voice, the world’s media would declare that administration’s policy had worsened the very disease it purported to cure.

Thankfully, no terrorist attack on U.S. soil has occurred since 9-11 or since Ferguson wrote those lines. Paradoxically, it seems though that, “with one voice,” most analysts have already declared that Bush will go down as the worse president in history. That might be true, but the fact of the matter is that only history will make the final call.

P.S.: If you do acquire the book, do read Kagan and Ikenberry’s pieces. More on that later.

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Posted in George W. Bush | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Note to Turkey: Be Smarter Than Us…

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on October 17, 2007

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It is quite hard to understand the logic that drove the decision of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to vote on an event that occurred 85 years ago, does not concern the U.S. nor its policy, and which does not seem to bear any urgency given today’s international context.  The resolution, which was approved with 27 votes against 21, determined that Turkey committed a genocide against the Armenian people during the First World War.

The resolution caused a national outcry in Turkey, leading officials to recall the country’s ambassador to the U.S. for “consultation”.  Even if American foreign policy should not be elaborated in function of potential outcries and others’ oversensitivities – not many resolutions would be voted in that case – it is hard to understand the urgency behind this decision, which is just adding more trouble to the current strains the two countries have experienced since 2003.    Some are already bad-mouthing over the Democrats’ responsability in this fiasco and are hinting that this may be a way to give Republicans yet another hard time with Foreign Policy.  Nevertheless, in practice, it is hard to imagine how Democrats could have reached this decision without realizing that the potential long-term damage could impede their geopolitical flexibility if they win the White House in 2008. 

This is why this resolution is ill-advised, no matter how one spins it.  It has limited Washington’s ability to influence Turkish policies in Northern Iraq, where a pseudo-Kurdish state has emerged as the only success story of the 2003 American intervention.  Tensions are now growing on Turkey’s Iraqi border.  Indeed, Turkey has displayed great suspicion towards the new Kurdish state that it considers as a potential safehaven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a mouvement considered as terrorist by the U.S. and Turkey.

According to the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Database, the last criminal actions led by the PKK occurred in the summer of 2006, when the terrorist movement attacked business, government and police targets in Turkey.  Thus Turkish authorities have legitimate reasons to be wary of the movement.

However, Turkey is as a significant stakeholder as any other country in the region, when it comes to the Iraqi issue.  By intervening in Northern Iraq, Turkey could destabilize the only region of Iraq that could provide a positive sign in the region.

America broke this relationship.  It’s time for some fixing, and allowing Turkey to destabilize Northern Iraq through a military dimension is not an answer.  In such circumstances, one could hope that Turkey will be pragmatic enough to use the situation to its own advantage, without resisting calls for a dialogue with the Kurds.  Paradoxically enough, one solution may be summed up in just two words, and you’re not going to like it: nuclear energy.

 

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Posted in US Foreign Policy, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Giuliani’s right, Mr.Olbermann

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on October 16, 2007

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In an unusual display of hyprocrisy and intellectual dishonesty in his show Countdown, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC tried to belittle former New York Mayor Ruldolph Giuliani after the latter claimed that 23 terror attacks had been prevented since 9-11.  “Not even the White House claims that,” laughed Olbermann.  Little did he know that he was quite wrong.

Giuliani‘s performance was assessed by a non-partisan think tank, FactCheck.org, here and hereGiuliani ‘s statements were systematically analyzed and some were criticized, but not those remarks.  The same holds true in this article, published in Slate.

In fact, in my own research, relying upon the testimonies of Intelligence Officials in front of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I find that there have been 21 failed attacks against US soil up to 2006.  And that does not include the June 2007 plot against the JFK airport in New York.

Olbermann committed a big gaffe, and will never have to explain himself.  That’s how the system works, and I accept that, all the more so as Bill O’Reilly probably makes similar errors, but for the other side’s account.  The only take-home lesson, for me at least, is that I’ll have a hard time listening to someone telling me that Fox News is completely illegitimate and biased: although the latter might be true, the former is difficult to admit when one observes Olbermann‘s display of dishonesty.

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Posted in 2008 Elections, US Foreign Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

9-11: Six Years On

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on September 9, 2007

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So much has been written on the subject.  Yet, what is remarkable about the event and the comments it has generated, is that whatever was written a little while ago is still relevant today.

The most significant of those comments is that, ironically enough, the U.S., which was attacked on 9-11, is paying today a heavy political price for those strikes.  I’ve offered here a methodology to assess how beneficial security spending since 9-11 has been at home here.  It seems that a cost-benefit analysis, based solely – by definition – on financial considerations, passes the test.  The same is certainly not true if political factors are included in the computation.  Hence this heavy political price.

One fundamental reason for this is that as a democracy, in a struggle with groups and countries with little consideration with principles related to liberty, the U.S. is not playing by the same rules.  The most recent and very cogent instance of this state of affairs was recently revealed by David Ignatius here: While Iran actively intervened in the January 2005 Elections in Iraq, the U.S. refused to adopt similar methods and did not back more moderate Iraqi politicians.  No American move to challenge Iran‘s $11 million challenge, although, as Ignatius reveals, the did provide some alternatives.

There is obviously nothing wrong with that choice.  There is also nothing wrong with the current criticism currently formulated against the Bush Administration for its poor handling of the post-Iraqi war.  There is something troublesome, though, with the way this criticism has been expressed.  It seems, at time, as if the only type of international violence that one can witness today emanates from the U.S., and that no one else is causing any harm.  Or, to use Mark Steyn’s words in his column today, as if there is no terrorism, only war.  

Moreover, this raises a paradox.  In a more extreme form, criticism against the Bush Administration put the emphasis on the Administration’s incompetence.  While there may be grounds to argue in favor of this thesis, the fact that the U.S. did not suffer any attack since 9-11 contradicts the very notion that this Administration is fully incompetent – luck as an explanation might be a bit of a stretch here.  But the paradox doesn’t stop here.  Steyn, in his column, raises the many contradictions of the most extreme form of criticism, expressed by conspiracy theories.  On the one hand, the Bush is very incompetent, but still smart enough to orchestrate, on its own soil, an operation like 9-11.  That’s an issue conspiracy theorists have not been able to solve yet.  Some even claim Bush rigged elections.  I would personally add, beyond Steyn‘s remarks, that interestingly enough, Bush failed to rig the last election of his mandate, that led to a Democratic landslide in Congress almost a year ago.  How weird.

I never cared for this systematic Bush bashing, caused, in my opinion, by a left lacking reason and a right lacking pragmatism.  Democrats would have dealt with this problem in a way that would have not been any different than Republicans – anybody remember the Clinton Administration‘s obsession with Saddam Hussein? Regime change was on the table as early as 1998.  Republicans have responded to the emergence of a new constellation of more pro-American leaders in Europe with a “So What?” that is as troubling as it is bewildering, given what is left to do today.

Six years on.  Same debates.  Little change.

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Posted in 9-11, Global War on Terror, US Foreign Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hiroshima, Decision Making and Dealing with the Future

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 7, 2007

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Sixty two years ago today occurred one of the most terrible events of the twentieth century: the U.S. used an atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to put an end to a six year war.

The event is usually (over)used by U.S. critics to demonstrate how evil America has acted, and how displaced criticism towards such nations as North Korea and Iran is given this past behavior.  Perhaps these same critics would have preferred to see Japan‘s imperial power expand more, and allow the Cold War to take a much warmer, three-way turn.

Paradoxically enough, it’s in the Guardian – of all places – that was published the smartest and most relevant comment on the subject.  British writer Oliver Kamm writes:

Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan’s military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

and concludes:

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire – and for Japan itself. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Beyond the necessary caveats one must keep in mind when drawing historical parallels, there are two specific lessons to draw from such a tragic event.  The first one is that there are no perfect heroes in international relations, and that grey areas are a constant in history.  What makes the difference, in these grey areas, is the ability democracies have to accept a quasi-continuous debate on key questions and express doubts on the relevance of their past behavior.  No one is mentioning today what 1945 Japan was about.  Moral equivalence, in such circumstances, provides the human mind with easy shortcuts and allows one to avoid dealing with History’s complicated dilemmas.

The second lesson resides in the complexities of international relations and the way a single decision necessarily involves unanticipated or unwarranted consequences, given the limits of human abilities in terms of infinite calculations.  Such a point might appear as obvious, but tends to be forgotten by individuals who are satisfied with unqualified judgments and feel they have a monopoly of reason.  Informed comments are not what they used to be.

Posted in US Foreign Policy, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The end of Palestine?

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on June 27, 2007

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Who’s fault is it? That’s an issue that has come up repeatedly. Bret Stephens probably provides the best answer in the Wall Street Journal today, but says little about the future. He only points out a fact that scares a whole lot of people: The very notion of Palestine might have died with Hamas’s coup two weeks ago.

If little is said about the future, it is most certainly because the West finds itself in a very unpleasant situation. First, the U.S., and George W. Bush, who advocated a profound change in Palestinian politics back in 2003, actively participated in Arafat’s estrangement, and was the first – and rightfully so – to denounce Hamas’s win in January 2006. So, back to square one and support for the PA? Strange situation, as Robert Satloff points out.

Next in line in this unpleasant situation is the European Union, who accepted the U.S.’s condemnation – and rightfully so – of Hamas, but must now face the monstrous dilemma it created: Choose between corruption and terrorism, knowing that the first nourishes the second. Voices are speaking out, including this one in France – although with a taint of distasteful moral relativism, as Israel, Iran and Hamas are treated on the very same level, but then again, this is the Quai d’Orsay talking… Now, Europe must deal with decades of inaction in the region. Lebanon, under Syrian rule, was the first issue to blow up in our faces. Palestine is second.

So… Where do we go from now? Historical irony let this period coincide with Blair’s departure from Downing Street. My intuition is that Blair‘s legacy will be openness to act on the international stage, and not accept historical fatalism – although some time will need to fly by before he is actually granted such legacy. It’s almost a shame that his departure coincides with Sarkozy’s arrival, as one would have liked to see how the two men’s international willingness – on the issues of Darfur and the European Construction for instance – would have been combined in practice.

But, in all likelihood, Blair will not disappear, and be named the Quartet‘s Ambassador in the Middle East. Perhaps this will be a way for the West to intervene directly in Palestine, and not let “fate” decide what occurs. And perhaps this will avoid today’s dilemma, because it is reasonable to believe that we – Palestinians included – do not need to choose between corruption and terrorism.

Posted in International Willingness, Middle East, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Israel Lobby: You Wanna Talk?

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on November 3, 2006

… so let’s talk…  but you’re not going to like it.

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The Council for National Interest , in an attempt to influence the outcome of next week’s American elections, published an ad in the New York Times claiming that the Israeli lobby is trying  to sell “another” war to the US government, that is the one that Israel would be currently leading in Gaza and in Lebanon.  This claim should be closely related to the idea, shared among many political analysts today, that the war in Iraq will play a decisive role in the outcome of the election.  The claim should also be linked to an idea that the CNI is trying to impose: The war in Iraq was heavily influenced by Israel’s stakes in the region.  An idea that is largely disputed and that does not hold when confronted with the facts.  French paper Marianne for instance published in March 2004 an investigation on the subject emphasizing on Sharon’s apprehensions regarding the intervention in Iraq as well as Israeli fears with regards to Teheran, not Baghdad. 

The Council is known for its anti-Israeli stance on every single issue the Middle East could possibly raise – and that’s perfectly fine in a democracy – and for its praise and numerous references to Mershaiemer and Walt’s recent article on the role Israel has played in the shaping of the US Foreign policy since 1948.  The article argued that while Israeli interests have bent American Foreign policy, the influence has been highly negative and in opposition with American interests.  The criticism and analysis was coming from two credible and very respected academic personalities, and CNI was not about to miss the opportunity to refer to it whenever it could…  But that certainly does not mean that the article was not full of flaws, inaccuracies and absurd thinking.

In my opinion, the best response to that article was brought  French historian Justin Vaïsse, in LibérationWhy this obsession with Israel and why should this country always be considered through a different lens than any other?  Vaisse expresses his surprise because there is very little about the Cold War which was crucial in US Foreign Policy, and because Saudi Arabia is only mentioned once in the article.  He emphasizes the role the Cuban lobby plays on US Foreign Policy without causing so much debate. He also mentions other personalities such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Anatol Lieven, Juan Cole, Robert Malley, Stanley Hoffmann or Henry Siegman and other researchers (Flynt Leverett, Shibley Telhami ou Muqtedar Khan) to argue that the debate in the US over the alliance with Israel is much more complex than the picture that the two authors give.  I would personnally add that Sorosexpressed intention to create a new Jewish lobby, but on the left wing, in order to compete with AIPAC, is just another instance of how lively the debate over American support to Israel is.

All of those questions were raised by numerous other analysts, in the US as well as in Europe.  Nobody cared to comment.

Debate in democracies are healthy.  Obsessions are not.  That is true in the US as well as in Europe, especially on the matter of the Israeli question.  So if CNI wants to launch this debate, it will have to accept the fact that it may just not appreciate the conclusions that will come out of it.  Unlike what Mershaiemer and Walt claim, the convergence of interests between the US and Israel might just be quite real.  One may certainly criticize the way the Israelis handled the crisis with Lebanon, but I do not know of many countries that would have preferred giving Hizbullah the impression that its actions were not totally inappropriate or acceptable.  In general, in spite of the founded or very wild criticism that we can hear on both sides of the Atlantic and directed towards Israel, I don’t know of many countries that would be ready to totally sacrifice that convergence to a short run collaboration with radical regimes and other groups. 

To CNI:  You have most probably selected an interesting issue, but you do not have any clue with regards to how to tackle it.  Deal with it the right way, just for the sake of the cause you are defending.  

Posted in Lobbies, World Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »