In the wake of the Obama administration’s emphasis on Asia, I spoke to a Friend of the Blog in Tokyo—an experienced observer of U.S. and regional foreign policy—for his reactions, and for a sense of how all of this is playing in Japan. This senior analyst has worked in US and Japanese think tanks and foundations and consulted closely with Japanese government offices. His basic message is that Japan likes The Pivot: The core of Japanese public opinion and its leading national security community place great stakes in a positive US regional role, and the reemphasis of that role embodied in the “shift to Asia” has gone down like a fine shot of sake. Read more
Yet another op-ed on Iran, this one by Amos Yadlin, one of the Israeli pilots who knocked out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and reviving the argument that Israel has it right in its preemption doctrine. Osirak worked; Iran cannot be allowed to get nukes, and an Osirak-style strike will impose a profitable delay, with manageable costs. Read more
Veterans of the Old Cold War: Meet the New Cold War. Vladimir Putin, channeling the scaremongering and scapegoating techniques of the best Western politicians, has found himself pressed by a legitimate opposition. In need of a rallying cry and without a serious domestic agenda that doesn’t remind people of corruption and repression, he has turned to that old favorite: Patriotic self-assertion in the face of a largely invented foreign evil. Read more
Three useful tidbits on the evolving strategy morass that is Afghanistan.
Two intelligence chiefs testified recently, and the message was not hopeful. Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of DIA, started his statement this way: “I would like to begin with current military operations in Afghanistan where we assess that endemic corruption and persistent qualitative deficiencies in the Army and police forces undermined efforts to extend effective governance and security. The Afghan army remains reliant on ISAF for key combat support, such as logistics, intelligence and transport. While Afghan Army performance improved in some operations when partnered with ISAF units, additional gains will require sustained mentoring and support. Despite successful coalition targeting, the Taliban remains resilient and able to replace leadership losses while also competing to provide governance at the local level. From its Pakistani safe havens, the Taliban leadership remains confident of eventual victory.”
So there’s that. Meantime the US is reportedly circulating proposals, based on assumptions of declining resources, to cut the size of the ANSF from 352,000 to 230,000 after 2014. Afghan defense minister Wardak pronounced such proposals a looming “disaster” and “catastrophe.”
Third is a persuasive analysis, up at Small Wars Journal, arguing that the much-touted night raids are not having the claimed effects on the Taliban. The author, Jonathan Smith, makes a range of points, arguably the most persuasive of which is the chart showing total insurgent attacks, which are again up in 2011. If we’re really having any sort of strategic effect on the insurgency, why don’t we see it in any measurable outcomes?
The accumulating risk in all of this, the combination of accelerating toward an exit along with growing anti-Americanism and lack of clear momentum etc., is that we are lurching toward a tipping point at which the credibility of the current approach collapses in a heap. We’ve been yanking the core assumptions out of the strategy one at a time, and for a while nobody will notice—but at some point, gravity will do its work. Meantime all the good doobies continue to publish their hortatory pieces about Staying the Course and Full Partnership after 2014 and all that nice business, which in theory is fine but looks less and less meaningful in practice.
Yet another example of the distance between Rhetoric and Ambition on the one hand, and Will and Resources on the other. For the moment, we’re managing to paper it over. When and if the whole thing gets exposed, though: What’s our plan?
More evidence of the transformation of North Korea: A Post article on the growing role of foreign currency in an economy increasingly driven by markets and trading. Meantime, reports suggest that China will be investing $3 billion in the North’s long-awaited Rason free trade zone in the northeast, including construction of an airport and a cross-border railway. China’s share: A fifty-year exclusive rights deal to the Rason port. Read more
The following is a guest post from an international Friend of the Blog with knowledge of events in North Africa, who offers his comments under the name Raimondo Montecuccoli. He argues in part that we need to view our approach through the lens of Sun Tzu, and look for intelligent indirect means of pursuing key objectives … because in some cases, for different reasons in different contexts, easy, direct actions or choices are ruled out or could be counterproductive. “Plan the difficult while it is still easy,” Lao Tzu urges, “do the great while it is still small: the world’s difficult affairs surely arise from easy ones, the world’s great affairs surely arise from small ones.” — MikeM Read more
So Robert Kagan was on Diane Rehm today, talking up his new book. It was a sober, mature conversation about world affairs and America’s role in them. No histrionics, no name calling, a balanced view of the current administration, a nuanced appreciation for a bunch of questions. Just the sort of public debate we need—admittedly of a particular view—on many issues of the day. So two-and-a-half-cheers for Kagan.
Which still doesn’t mean a guy’s gotta agree with him. Read more