Afghanistan, logistics, geopolitics, war, peace

The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock has an informative piece in today’s paper about the many continuing challenges the U.S. military has faced as it attempted to provide logistic support to the “surged” U.S. troop presence in very distant Afghanistan.
Supplying these troops is particularly hard, due to three factors:

    1. Um, Afghanistan is a long way away from the United States; it is landlocked with high mountains surrounding it on nearly every side; and it has lousy internal infrastructure.
    2. The all-volunteer U.S. military is configured in a certain way and most of it fights in a certain way. Bottom line here: supporting one service-member in the field, what with bottled water, air-conditioning when at all possible, decent electric supplies, warm meals whenever possible– oh, not to mention the high cost of her or his weaponry, very high-tech vehicles, and the fuel needed to power them– etc., etc., places huge demands on the supply branches such as would not be placed by, for example, a Maoist-style field force “living off the land.”
    3. U.S. politics certainly constrains logistics choices that might otherwise be far simpler (and less expensive) to make. For example: one look at the map so handily provided by the WaPo today shows a big U.S.-logistics black hole in the whole of Iran, a neighbor of Afghanistan that has a number of pretty good land links with it. But the U.S. can’t use Iran as a transit zone! (More on this, below.) In addition, though, domestic U.S. political pressures mandate that the vast bulk of the goods supplied to U.S. forces be bought from (and shipped from) U.S. suppliers. So it might make a lot more sense to source the supplies from elsewhere. (And I believe that in the case of bottled water, this is not shipped in from the United States– can anyone confirm that?) But still, that domestic-sourcing pressure might help save a few jobs back in the United States, but it certainly adds hugely to the logistical challenge.

So yes, in some respects the U.S. military is a competent organization; and by and large it has been able to meet the logistical challenges created by the above factors.
Whitlock quotes Alan F. Estevez, the Pentagon’s principal deputy assistant secretary for logistics, as saying “If you look at what we’ve done there in the last two years, we look at it more or less as a logistics miracle.”
H’mm. “Miraculous”, maybe. But also a truly gargantuan money sump for the currently hard-pressed U.S. taxpayer, a massive burden on the global environment and especially the environment of the war zone itself… And all for– what exactly?
In order to deliver the machinery of lethal combat into one of the poorest countries on earth…

Continue reading “Afghanistan, logistics, geopolitics, war, peace”

Obama ‘wilfully’ provoking Beijing?

China Hand (Peter Lee) has a post today on what looks like a really important story: the eruption of a startling new war of words between Washington and Beijing– a phenomenon that Lee indicates could be undergirded by some serious new tensions in this world-defining relationship.
The way he tells it, the latest spat began on Sunday, at the G-20 summit in Toronto, when Obama publicly accused China of “wilful blindness” by remaining silent over North Korea’s suspected sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
Today, People’s Daily Online hit back. An unsigned editorial there said of Obama,

    His words on such an important occasion, based on ignorance of China’s consistent and difficult efforts in pushing for peace on the peninsula, has come as a shock to China and the world at large.
    As a close neighbor of North Korea, China and its people have immediate and vital stakes in peace and stability on the peninsula. China’s worries over the North Korean nuclear issue are by no means less than those of the US.
    The US president should have taken these into consideration before making irresponsible and flippant remarks about China’s role in the region.
    The facts speak for themselves, and very clearly so: China has made tremendous efforts in preventing the situation on the Korean Peninsula from getting out of control, including in the aftermath of the Cheonan incident.
    Without China’s involvement, there would not have been the Six-Party Talks, and the outbreak of yet another Korean War might well have been a possibility.
    It is thus not China that is turning a blind eye to what North Korea has done and has not done.
    Instead, it is the leaders of countries such as the US that are turning a blind eye on purpose to China’s efforts.

Lee writes in his post:

    Characterizing the US president as “irresponsible and flippant” is a convenient indicator that US-China relations are headed for the meat locker.
    Another indication is the Chinese announcement that it will conduct live fire naval exercises as a riposte to the US-ROK joint exercises scheduled June 30 to July 5, which may or may not include a US aircraft carrier sailing around the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and the Chinese mainland.

He has some more material, too, about the US continuing to pursue anti-China policies in another dimension of the US-China relationship, namely the intermittent jockeying over the status of Tibet.
He concludes:

    as far as I can see, the Obama administration policy toward China is all sticks no carrots. The consequences of crossing the United States are meant to be dire, but I haven’t seen any significant proffered benefits to China for toeing the U.S. line, other than the intangible ones–like not having President Obama insult your President at high profile international forums.
    It will be interesting to watch this play out, especially in the run-up to the 2010 US congressional elections.

Indeed. Interesting, and quite possibly very depressing. Not least because the relationship with China is (like US-Turkish relations) yet another of the key aspects of US diplomacy in which the actions of dedicated pro-Israeli zealots within the US political system are currently making great and completely unnecessary problems for the true interests of the American people.
As Lee himself showed in some detail in this recent post at Asia Times Online, which detailed the degree to which Stuart Levey, the head of the US Treasury Department’s ‘Office for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence” (OTFI) now has China in his sanctions cross-hairs.
Lee unapologetically describes Levey as the “‘father’ of the North Korean atomic bomb”, explaining that it was Levey’s excessive zeal as head of OTFI in instituting sanctions in September 2005 against a small bank in Macau called the Banco Delta Asia (BDA) that had spurred Kim Jong-Il to withdraw from the six-party talks and detonate North Korea’s first nuclear bomb just weeks later, on October 9.
As Lee added laconically, a second immediate effect of Levey’s action that year was that, “America’s image as an honest broker impartially protecting the integrity of the dollar-based international financial system was seriously tarnished.”
Lee concludes the ATO article by writing,

    Given… OTFI’s rather dismal record of failure and insubordination on BDA, it is interesting that the Obama administration kept Levey in his post after it took office.

An explanation could almost certainly be found in some of the sources cited in this April 2010 post at Mondoweiss.
In it, Jeff Blankfort and Phil Weiss recall that in 2005, Levey told an AIPAC policy conference that,

    It is a real pleasure to be speaking with you today. I have been an admirer of the great work this organization does since my days on the one-year program at Hebrew University in 1983 and 1984. I want to commend you for the important work that you are doing to promote strong ties between Israel and the United States and to advocate for a lasting peace in the Middle East….

Blankfort and Weiss have more good stuff there, as well– on Levey’s also strongly pro-Israeli deputy David Cohen, as well as on Levey himself.
These guys are dug very deep into sensitive portions of the administration at this point; and they are backed up by great cohorts of AIPAC-orchestrated funders and propagandists who work at the congressional and public-discourse levels to try to keep us all living inside the AIPAC-defined blinkers.
But they are now prepared to put the core U.S. relationship with China that undergirds the entire current world economic system at risk, just because of their (Israel-motivated) zeal against Iran?
Yes, it seems so.
That was a dangerous and escalatory game to be playing back in 2005. But today, the globe-girdling balance between Washington and Beijing has shifted considerably. This time, Stuart Levey’s Israel-motivated zealotry against China could have consequences that are far, far more damaging for humanity.
Update, Wed, 10:30 am.
A friend sent me this 2006 profile of Levey from the WaPo Style section. The writer, Dafna Linzer, quotes Clinton administration official as describing Levey as “a loyal Republican, but he would not let politics color or direct a judgment that he would otherwise make.”
Linzer also notes that Levey, “spent his junior year [from college] studying at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, where he worked on an undergraduate thesis on Meir Kahane…” It seems possible from what Linzer wrote that the thesis was critical of Kahane.
But regarding U.S. politics, Levey’s politics seemed clear:

    Levey was dispatched to Florida as part of the 2000 election recount. Like many of the Republican lawyers behind Bush v. Gore , Levey joined the government shortly afterward. He chose the Justice Department, serving under then-Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson.
    Levey started out handling immigration issues. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Thompson promoted him to chief of staff and added money laundering and anti-terrorism activities to his portfolio.
    Thompson is among a long list of conservative mentors to Levey. They include Judge Laurence H. Silberman, former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) and Martin Peretz, the New Republic’s editor in chief, who was Levey’s Harvard thesis adviser and who describes him as “dazzlingly smart.”

Linzer also had this:

    This February, Levey traveled to the Middle East with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shortly after Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, had won Palestinian elections. As part of a small team of administration officials grappling with the results, Levey tried to figure out how to get money to the Palestinian people without going through Hamas.
    … On the way back from Jerusalem, Levey approached Rice on a different matter: financial levers he thought could be used to pressure Iran. Rice was impressed, her aides said, and Levey was asked to lead a task force designed to implement financial sanctions against Tehran if negotiations over its nuclear program fell apart.

So there you have it. A man without much political loyalty to Pres. Obama’s party as such. But with a lot of loyalty to AIPAC’s highly escalatory and destabilizing anti-Iran agenda.
Someone remind me why Obama kept him on again?

China’s confused role on Iran sanctions

China Hand has a great post today about the notably muddled-looking role that China’s been playing on the Iran sanctions issue.
CH notes that while it’s understandable (given the exigencies of U.S. politics, the big role of AIPAC, etc) why Hillary Clinton came down like a ton of bricks against the Turkey/Brazil deal, what is far less comprehensible is the apparently clear support that China gave to Hillary’s rushed announcement of the new round of sanctions that Washington has been pushing for.
CH notes that subsequent to the release of a first statement that announced the endorsement that China and the rest of the P5+1 group gave to the new sanctions arrangement– and that also justified China’s role in those P5+1 negotiations– Beijing did try to walk its position back a bit, including by giving more props to the efforts of Turkey and Brazil.
The justifications given in the earlier article do, however, give an interesting window into the thinking/argumentation of China’s rulers on this matter and perhaps many other issues in world affairs.
As CH translates them, they cover the following four points:

    Point 1:
    China acts on principle. It is opposed to nuclear proliferation and the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran.
    “At the same time” China affirmed the dual track strategy and “the discussion of the draft of the six nations [i.e., the P5+1] concerning sanctions should not affect the peace and stability or influence the recovery of the international economy.

    Point 2:
    China’s important interests are maintained. China’s important interests are…in the matters of Iran’s energy, trade, and financial sectors. China believes that normal economics and trade should not be punished because of the Iran question nor should those countries that maintain normal, legal economic relations with Iran be punished…Through negotiations, this point was satisfied, doing a relatively good job of upholding China’s…important interests.
    Point 3:
    Maintaining China’s image as a responsible great power…China has repeatedly emphasized although the six nations are discussing sanctions in New York, diplomatic efforts should be completely unaffected. The door to diplomatic efforts has not been closed…China’s consistently positive and constructive attitude has gained the favorable comment of the concerned nations.

    Point 4:
    China has energetically tended to good relations with the various parties…During the course of discussions we have maintained good communications with the various parties, including Iran. We have reported relevant circumstances to the concerned party Iran in a timely manner. We have encouraged and supported Iran’s expansion of cooperation with international society. The most recent conclusion of an agreement of Brazil and Turkey with Iran for the swap of nuclear fuel was also the result of China supporting diplomatic efforts and creating the space and time for diplomatic efforts. This also includes obtaining precious time for the Brazilian and Turkish leaders to go to iran to engage in diplomatic efforts and achieve a positive result. Therefore, the representatives of both Brazil and Turkey have in various venues and through different channels expressed thanks to China. At the same time, Iran has also indicated that this is also the result of the work done by China’s leadership on the Iran side, actively urging and promoting discussions.

I think maybe point 3’s mention of China’s “image as a responsible great power” is the key. It wants to maintain its role in the world economy, as well as its access to natural resources from Iran and elsewhere– all without rocking the boat too much in its relations with Washington?
Well, I guess I can see that that position might have some, very China-centered, logic to it…. over the short term, at least. But it would have been nice to have seen Beijing less ready to be stampeded by the manipulators in Hillary’s State Department (and their very good friends in AIPAC.) It would have been nice to see China a little more ready to embrace the cause of the mid-size nations whose weight in world affairs derives from their soft power rather than their possession of nuclear weapons.

Obama cool toward ‘mid-size states’ deal

Pres. Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs was yesterday extremely cool toward the agreement that Turkish PM Rejep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil’s Prez Luiz Ignacio Lula Da Silva reached with Iran concerning a swap of low-enriched uranium for medically suitable fuel rods.
By the way, I should have noted explicitly in the post I wrote on this yesterday that Turkey and Brazil are both currently members of the U.N. Security Council. Which obviously makes the active engagement of their leaders in this diplomacy much more important and immediately operational than it would have been otherwise.
Here in the U.S., some of the MSM commentary has been along the lines of, “Gosh, how worrying that this latest deal might lessen our chances of getting the U.N. to support tougher sanctions against Iran!”
Well, yes, they are right to the extent that it does that. But why on earth be worried about that prospect? … Unless, that is, your main aim is the sanctions themselves– often seen over the past 17 years, qua Martin Indyk, as an important way of weakening the regime prior to its overthrow– rather than resolving the questions and uncertainties around Iran’s avowedly civilian nuclear program?
(Of course, the kinds of sanctions imposed by the U.S.– and Israel– on their opponents– have usually has the reverse effect, of strengthening regimes those states don’t favor. But the primal urge to punish, punish, punish is so strong in these countries that simple rationality sometimes doesn’t even get a look-in.)
U.S. commentators who’ve been railing against the mid-size states deal also fail to take into account the fact that in today’s world, Brazil and Turkey are both democratic states that enjoy real power, in a number of different ways. Both are relative economic power-houses, whose current, well-regarded governments have done a lot to ensure that the economic growth of recent years has been paired with some good (and innovative) attention to social justice issues within their own societies. Both enjoy wide respect from their neighbors. Both have numerous economic, political, and military ties to ‘western’ nations.
In addition, Turkey– as I’ve noted here numerous times before– is a key member of NATO in that it is NATO’s only majority-Muslim member state at a time when NATO’s fate as an alliance really hangs on the success (or quite possible failure) of the lengthy expeditionary mission it has been undertaking in Afghanistan. Which, hullo, is a Muslim country many of whose people have a deep distrust of westerners, including Christians and perhaps especially the sporadic efforts of western Christian evangelizers.
Does Obama really want to maintain a stance of publicly belittling and disrespecting the diplomatic engagement and real diplomatic achievement of Turkey’s prime minister (and of Brazil’s president)? I can’t believe he does.
Reaction from other P-5 powers includes this from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman:

    China welcomes and places importance on the agreement that Iran signed with Brazil and Turkey on fuel supply to its research reactor, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said here Tuesday.
    … Ma said at a routine press conference that China hopes this move will help advance the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation.
    Ma said China has always adhered to the dual-track strategy on resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. China has always insisted that dialogue and negotiation are the best way to resolve the issue.

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev gave the deal a seemingly more measured welcome. Moscow Times reported that he “cautiously welcomed a uranium swap deal between Iran and Turkey, but warned that it may fail to fully satisfy the international community.”
As for the European “powers”– Britain and France who, as nuclear-weapons-waving states, by an amazing coincidence get a veto on the security Council; and Germany, which by some sleight of hand got folded onto that strange, ad-hoc, Iran-focused body called the “P5+1”– right now they are all fairly busy with other things like, um, Europe’s own continuing financial crisis and the Brits’ attempts to establish a workable direction for the new coalition government in London.
And besides, I really don’t intend to puff Europe up by giving it any kind of equal billing with the other governments mentioned here. Three seats out of six in a global body, just for Europe? Didn’t anyone think at the time that that was just a tad nineteenth century?*
Well, back here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., I was interested to see this exchange in Robert Gibbs’s press conference yesterday:

    Q And did the President speak with leaders of Turkey or Brazil as this proposal was being put together?
    MR. GIBBS: No, again, I believe the State Department has been in contact with them. But the President has not talked directly with any leaders.

Boy, that looks like a very serious mis-step, right there.
I was also interested to see, in that press conference, the degree to which some of the questioners really did seem more concerned about the fate of the sanctions efforts per se rather than getting the nuclear issue with Iran actually resolved. There’s the MSM for you!

* Population figures for these states:
China………….. 1,330 million
U.S………………… 304 million
Brazil…………….. 196 million
Russia……………. 141 million
Germany………….. 82 million
Turkey……………. 72 million
Iran………………… 66 million
France…………….. 61 million
Britain…………….. 61 million

Midsize, non-nuclear powers enter world stage

Treading where the U.S. and its European allies have failed to make any significant headway, the leaders of Turkey and Brazil have now engaged personally in dealing with the globally important Iran/nuclear issue– and they seem to be making real progress in de-escalating the tensions around it.
In Tehran today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters his government has agreed to ship about half of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for the further enriched kind of fuel required to run a medical reactor.
The deal comes as the culmination of personal visits undertaken to Iran by Turkish Prime Minister Rejep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva.
If this deal goes through, Erdogan and Lula’s diplomatic breakthrough will have a large impact not only on resolution of the globally vital Iran/nuclear issue itself but also on the whole face and structure of world politics.
The U.S., Britain, France, and Germany have all been pushing– within the ‘P5+1′ forum established specifically a couple of years ago to add Germany’s economic (and pro-U.S.) heft to the UN’s traditional P5 leadership– to impose a U.S.-designed solution on Iran, primarily by ratcheting up hostile economic actions against Iran backed up by a threat of military action.
Within the P5+1, the other two members of the P5, China and Russia, have adopted a fairly passive stance on the issue, showing neither any great support for the western countries’ line nor any readiness to actively resist it.
Enter the leaders of Turkey and Brazil– two significantly rising, mid-size countries whose current governments are generally pro-western but have also shown their willingness to challenge Washington where they judge their own core interests outweigh those of the U.S.
In contrast to the P5’s membership group, which coincides exactly with the group of five nations “allowed” to have nuclear weapons– for a while anyway– under the terms of the worldwide Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Turkey and Brazil are determinedly non-nuclear states. Both have good relations, including military relations, with the U.S. But perhaps most importantly, the current governments of these two states enjoy a wide and indisputable democratic mandate from their own citizenries– as well as considerable soft-power (diplomatic and economic) heft within the regions of which they are a part.
Therefore, though some European diplomats have apparently been a little huffy about the deal Erdogan and Lula achieved in Tehran, it would seem very counter-productive for the western governments to try to do anything active to try to undermine it.
That does not mean they won’t try, of course. All the western governments have been subjected to great pressure by Israel to continue ratcheting up the pressure on Iran; and it seems doubtful that either that pressure or those governments’ susceptibility to it will end overnight.
This is a great– and potentially very hopeful– story, in so many different respects. Watch this space.

China and the US in Afghanistan

It’s good to put yourself into the shoes of others from time to time. For a while now, I’ve been trying to imagine the conversations that the Central Committee of the Chinese Committee Party doubtless hold from time to time about the various overseas adventures (!) of the US military.
I’m guessing they were intrigued but not, in the circumstances, very surprised by Pres. G.W. Bush’s original decision to invade Afghanistan in October 2001. That invasion brought the US military into a country that shares a short and extremely inhospitable border with China. So the arrival of the US military there– and in various of the other Central Asian Stans that share longer borders with China– must have caused the CCP planners some concern. But the US campaign was wholly focused on Islamist opponents of one variety or another; and it did significantly distract the attention of US military planners from the confrontations they had previously been gaming over in the South China Sea and other areas where China would be the direct target…
(Hainan incident, anyone? That had been GWB’s debut involvement in international affairs, remember.)
So after October 2001, I’m guessing it was “watchful waiting” for the guys in the CCP as they watched the US military maneuvering around the inhospitable mountains of Central Asia.
Then, 18 months later, came the US invasion of Iraq. I’m imagining the guys in the CCP being delirious with delight, toasting Rumsfeld in copious mao-tai or whatever, rubbing their eyes in amazement at just how amazingly stupid the leadership of the US could be!
And then, over the six years that followed, they watched quietly as Washington poured vast amounts of treasure and blood into Iraq in a campaign that very soon started to seriously degrade both the US military and the US economy.
Finally, after the November 2006 elections, Bob Gates’s realism started to pull the US ship of state slowly around from continuing too strongly with that folly.
But then, there was (and still is) the US campaign in Afghanistan.
Now, I’m thinking that the guys in the CCP are having serious second and third thoughts about that. Oh yes, how fabulous (from their POV) to see Washington continuing to degrade the American military and economy even more– over yet another completely un-“winnable” military campaign in a distant-from-the-US Asian country. But there is this other thing the CCP guys very strongly (and probably quite realistically) believe in, which is the deep inter-dependence of the US and China in world affairs.
There’s a portion of the US-China relationship that’s fairly zero-sum-gamey. But there is another portion, which I– and I think they– believe is bigger, which is pretty win-winny (though still not without some elements of competitiveness: sibling rivalry, if you will.)
Win-winning-ness is most evident in the economic relations between the two countries. But it is also present in the need they both share to find a way– preferably, of course, a way that is based neither on confrontation nor on oppression– to deal with various strong currents in the Muslim ummah.
So how long can Beijing go on just watching as the US beats itself to a bloody pulp in Afghanistan? And/or, at what point will the guys in Beijing choose to step in and, first, “offer” their help; or, at a later point, perhaps even start to insist that Washington take it?
Might we be reaching the first of those two points just now?
… From time to time I try to check up on what various Chinese sources are saying about the US’s various military adventures. Which is another way of saying that in between those times, I don’t pay the topic nearly enough attention.
But this week, helpful JWN commenter JohnH directed me to this recent piece in Asia Times, written by a retired, senior Indian diplomat… And that piece then sent me to this important article, authored, as the AT piece says, by deputy general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, Li Qinggong, and published by Xinhua in English on September 28.
Li writes,

    Afghanistan’s political and social turmoil has been aggravated by different intentions of the participating nations that constitute the coalition forces.
    In the short term, the fragile Afghan regime is finding it difficult to tame its restive domestic situation. Still, a prescription could help bring the country out of the mess if key players adopt a peaceful and reconciliatory approach in their push for the end of the war.
    The United States should first put an end to the war. The anti-terror war, which the former US administration of George W Bush launched in 2001, has turned out to be the source of ceaseless turbulence and violence in the past years.
    To promote much-needed reconciliation among the parties concerned, the US should end its military action. The war has neither brought the Islamic nation peace and security as the Bush administration originally promised, nor brought any tangible benefits to the US itself. On the contrary, the legitimacy of the US military action has been under increasing doubt.

And here’s where it gets even more interesting:

    Support from the international community is needed to help Afghanistan make a substantive move toward peace. The international community can take advantage of the ever-mounting anti-war calls within the US to prompt the Obama administration to end the war and withdraw US troops. Germany, France and Britain have planned an international conference this year to discuss the gradual withdrawal of Afghanistan military deployment. International pressures may offer Obama another excuse to withdraw US troops. The UN Security Council should carry the baton from the three European nations to convene a conference on the Afghanistan issue and try to reach a consensus among its five permanent Security Council members and draft a roadmap and timetable for resolution of the thorny issue. In the process, a ticklish issue is whether parties concerned can accept the Taliban as a key player in Afghanistan and how to dispose of the Al Qaeda armed forces, an issue that has a key bearing on the outcome of any international conference on the Afghanistan issue.
    Surely, an international peacekeeping mission is needed in the absence of US troops. With the aid of international peacekeepers, the Afghanistan government and its security forces can be expected to exercise effective control over domestic unrest and maintain peace and security.

So far, this still looks like a very preliminary trial balloon. But it is a trial balloon that this evidently well-connected figure has now gone ahead and floated, in the government’s own English-language media.
It’s one we should all think about.
… Longtime JWN readers will be well aware that one argument I’ve made repeatedly over recent years is that the western nations who constitute NATO are just about the worst instrument one could image for trying to “pacify” Afghanistan; and that if the help of non-Afghan outsiders is needed for this task– as it seems to be– then having the UN play the lead role would be far more effective than imagining that “the west” can do this job alone. (Or, perhaps, at all.)
Just one final note. There’s an ardent young American “COIN”- admirer called Andrew Exum who’s gained some publicity in the past couple of years for the blog he “cheekily” decided to call “Abu Muqawama” (Father of the Resistance). Recently, Exum and his blog got hired by a “liberal hawkish” new think-tank in Washington called the Center for a New American Security, which is famous mainly for the fact that its previous head, Michele Flournoy, is now the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy. (Several other previous CNAS people have also gone into the Obama administration. Not, altogether, good news: I have a deep wariness about liberal hawks.)
So anyway, yesterday the breathless young Exum reported on his blog that around the halls of CNAS,

    there is a pretty lively debate among the scholars and staff who work here about whether or not we should continue a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan when we might instead be focusing on preserving our energies for rising powers. Obviously enough, those of us who work on Afghanistan and counterinsurgency feel one way (more or less), while those who work on China and the rest of Asia feel another way (again, more or less… )

This strikes me as an incredibly naive– but also revealing– view. “Rising powers” obviously refers to China. But what still-extant “energies” is he talking about preserving? Energies for fighting China sometime in the future? Can he really mean that?
Also, is he telling us that the people at CNAS who “work on” China are working mainly on thining about plans for a future military confrontation with it? If so, that is very worrying indeed. (But not surprising, all in all, from such a hotbed of liberal hawks.)
But here’s where Exum’s naivete lies. Rather than the US fighting China any time soon (or ever), my judgment is that at some point within the next 4-5 years, the US government will be begging China and the rest of the international community to help it to find a way out of Afghanistan.
Unusually enough, I agree more on this point with Robert Kaplan than I do with Andrew Exum. Kaplan wrote in the NYT yesterday,

    if we stay in Afghanistan and eventually succeed, other countries will benefit more than we will. China, India and Russia are all Asian powers, geographically proximate to Afghanistan and better able, therefore, to garner practical advantages from any stability our armed forces would make possible.

Actually, at this point, whether the US stays in Afghanistan or leaves, and whether it “succeeds” there (whatever that means) or doesn’t, then the sheer indisputable fact of the costs the US has paid on account of its two military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past eight years (both initiated by GWB) means that all the elements of US national power have been considerably degraded over the past eight years, while important elements of the national power of China and Russia– I’m not so sure about India– have meanwhile continued on a path of growth.
I guess ever since I did the little bit of research that led to this August 2008 blog post on the sheer size and scope of China’s investments in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve had this idea that one of the main effects of George W. Bush’s two big military (mis-)adventures in distant countries has been to make those countries safe for Chinese mercantilism.
Now there’s irony for you, eh?

The Year of the Ox II

First, going back to the year of the Golden Snake (nothing personal, George) — April 26, 2001:

    REPORTER: Do we have an obligation to defend the Taiwanese?
    GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes we do. And the Chinese must understand that. Yes I would.
    REPORTER: With the full force of the American military?
    GEORGE W. BUSH: Whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself.

Continue reading “The Year of the Ox II”

Sort of catching up here

I’ve been battling the flu for the past week. It made me feel mentally debilitated and above all TIRED. Since I’ve also been trying to write a big piece for Boston Review, I didn’t have any mental energy at all left over for blogging.
However, now, I am cautiously able to report some improvement.
A bunch of big things have been happening in the world this past week. Pakistan has been unraveling ways faster than most people expected. Iraq has also been in a bad way. The WaPo had a series from Afghanistan that seemed to convey that the military situation for the beefed-up US forces will be a lot more challenging than, I think, most Americans realize. The NYT’s business section had a fascinating report on the degree to which US home prices continue to plummet… The US Treasury has just released the first results of the ‘stress test’ it has applied to the country’s 19 largest banks– Treasury Sec Geithner is due to hold a news conference on the issue at 4:30 p.m. today.
All these developments indicate that the US’s power vis a vis the rest of the world is slipping quite a lot faster than it was at, say, this time last year.
I’ve been working so intensively on Palestinian questions these past four months that it’s been a while since I took a step back and looked seriously at the big picture of geopolitics. Maybe it’s time to do that with more regularity again.

The Year of the Ox

The Chinese new year of the Ox began on January 26th, and it portends to be a year of change for China-Taiwan relations.

    The Ox is thought to be the sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. The Ox is a power sign, like the Rat, Snake, Dragon, Tiger, and Monkey. They’re quite dependable and possess an innate ability to achieve great things. As one might guess, such people are dependable, calm, and modest. Like their animal namesake, the Ox is unswervingly patient, tireless in their work, and capable of enduring any amount of hardship without complaint.
    Ox people, according to tradition, need peace and quiet to work through their ideas, and when they have set their mind on something it is hard for them to be convinced otherwise. An Ox person has a very logical mind and is extremely systematic in whatever they do, though they have a tremendous imagination and an unparalleled appreciation for beauty. These people speak little but are extremely intelligent. When necessary, they are articulate and eloquent.

China’s premier and Taiwan’s president seem ready to make substantial changes in their longstnding bellicose relationship.

    March 5 (Bloomberg) — China will push for a comprehensive economic accord with Taiwan and wants to broaden discussions to involve military issues, Premier Wen Jiabao said.
    “We will accelerate normalization of cross-straits economic relations and promote the signing of a comprehensive agreement on economic cooperation,” Wen said in his annual report to the National People’s Congress in Beijing today. “We are also ready to hold talks on cross-straits political and military issues and create conditions for ending the state of hostility.”
    Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has stepped up economic exchanges with China since taking office in May, and direct daily flights, shipping and postal links started in December. China signed a comprehensive economic agreement with Hong Kong in June 2003, waiving tariffs for its imports and preferential market access for the city’s banks, brokerages and insurers.

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Gaza: US blocking power eroded; Quartet calls for ceasefire

Back in the 33-Day War of 2006, the Bush administration was able to block the Security Council and the rest of the UN from issuing a formal call for a ceasefire until the point when Israel, realizing its forces were getting into very hot water indeed, started actively pleading for one.
This time, the Olmert government is still very resistant to a ceasefire. And earlier, the position of the Bush administration was, as in 2006, to give Israel carte blanche to do what it liked against its neighbors.
But the international dynamics have changed since 2006.
This evening, Condi Rice agreed to join the principals of the other three powers in the Quartet in calling for “an immediate ceasefire that would be fully respected.” Follow that link for more details of who was involved, how it happened, etc.
The other three members of the Quartet are the EU, Russia, and the UN. Ban Ki-moon was on the conference call in which the call for the immediate ceasefire was agreed.
The global balance between the US and the other 95% of humanity is indeed changing.