Can the Lady deliver?

Simon Henderson at the Washington Institute has a sharper eye than I do, as he detected this from SecState Clinton this week: “Iran is entitled to the use of civil nuclear power for peaceful purposes.” In his well-crafted scenesetter, Simon bemoans that “this formulation could allow Iran to continue enriching uranium.”

I doubt we are going to be able to stop that. The best we can hope for is to limit the degree of enrichment and amount of material.

Monday’s P5+1 meeting in Geneva is a big test for the EU. If Lady Ashton can deliver, Brussels will gain serious credibility.

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One more for withdrawal from Afghanistan

Another Afghanistan report for that shelf you cleared: Gilles Dorronsoro says we can’t win and argues for ceasefire, negotiate, withdraw.

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Another moment of truth

International Crisis Group has put out its latest on Afghanistan, offering a definitive answer to the question of whether Karzai is worth it:

Any plan that fails to deal with the decay in Kabul will not succeed. President Hamid Karzai no longer enjoys the legitimacy and popularity
he once had and he has subsequently lost his ability to stitch together lasting political deals.

This is followed by a well-documented litany of failures in areas directly relevant to whether the mission as a whole can succeed.

But ICG then somehow manages to turn 180 degrees and recommend, in a backhanded sort of way, engagement rather than exit:

Overcoming the trust deficit between the Afghan government, the Afghan people and the international community will rely on more concerted efforts to increase political representation, to expand access to justice and to confront corruption.

This amounts to no more than wishing it weren’t so–if it wanted to be listened to, ICG would have done better to go where its analysis points: drawdown, presumably on the currently agreed NATO schedule.

PS:  Later in the day, the New York Times added fuel to the fire with a report on high level corruption in Afghanistan.

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The moment of truth that lasts a long time

While the press and blogosphere focus on the diploleaks, which I admit provide diplomacy with more attention than it has had in a long time, my guess is that the more important and long lasting effects on America’s foreign and security policies will come from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, or more accurately from what the Congress decides to do with its recommendations.

The most relevant portion is found in The Moment of Truth under “Discretionary Spending” on pp. 21-23, though a quick read of the section on gasoline tax (p. 25) is recommended as well.  “Security,” including international affairs (presumably the 150 account), would take a substantial cut (7.1%) from the President’s request for 2012, and get back above the 2012 level only in 2019.  Wars (“Overseas Contingency Operations”) would be funded separately, but the funding sounds as if it would be strictly limited to military operations (it seems not to include counterpart civilian efforts).

The gas tax is notable for its modesty:  15 cents per gallon, a drop in the tank.  If anything like the real cost of importing oil were charged to oil users, I suspect the number would be over $1 per gallon, which would still be modest compared to gas taxes elsewhere.  When will we face that moment of truth?

Michael Mandelbaum’s Frugal Superpower is the best treatment I’ve seen of the implications of the coming budget stringency for foreign and security policy, though I think it mistaken in imagining that we’ll be able to avoid future state-building efforts. Or that we should, since judicious, preventive state-building is a relatively cheap way to avoid much larger military expenditures.

The only thing worse for U.S. foreign and security policy than the cuts contemplated in the Commission’s report is not making the kinds of cuts contemplated in the Commission’s report.  The superpower needs to get its own house in order if it is to continue to play the appropriate leadership role abroad.

P.S. It looks more like $2 per gallon or more, but I am still looking for a good, recent source on the real costs of petroleum dependency. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

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Pakistan: what me worry?

Islamabad is busy pooh-poohing U.S. concerns and treating them as signs of bias against Pakistan, but anyone sensible would worry about that country’s highly enriched uranium (HEU) as well as about the security of its nuclear weapons.

As a science counselor at the American Embassy in Rome in the late 1970s, I visited one of Italy’s research reactors, which like Pakistan’s ran on HEU.  It contained, as my guide pointed out, more than enough HEU to make a nuclear weapon.  The U.S. has been busy collecting this material, and replacing it with less dangerous stuff, for some years now. No one responsible would pooh-pooh the concerns–and lots of proud countries have collaborated in getting the HEU into more secure places, including well-known U.S. toady Belarus.

We won’t I imagine find much about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the diploleaks, since those cables will likely be more restricted in distribution.  But if Pakistan can’t respond more responsibly on HEU, it makes me worry even more about their nukes.

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Gates crashes

Secretary Gates thinks the impact of the diploleaks on U.S. foreign policy will be modest:

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

…some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

I am an admirer of the Secretary, but this is old think.  We are less indispensable than once we were, and we are declining in importance relative to others as their economies grow, ours stagnates, and our oil dependency sends hundreds of billions abroad that are much needed at home. Sure others will continue to deal with us, but they will do so with less commitment and enthusiasm if they feel we are unreliable–and in diplomacy keeping private conversations private is an important dimension of reliability.

Michelle Kelemen got it right on NPR yesterday.

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