Tag: India

Peace picks June 19-23

  1. Losing An Enemy: Can the Iran Nuclear Deal Survive Trump? | Monday, June 19 | 12 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was an unlikely diplomatic collaboration initiated by three European countries and realized only after the United States took a leading role. Join founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) Trita Parsi for a conversation about the history, success, and challenges facing the Iran nuclear deal. Parsi is the author of three books about U.S.-Iran relations. The discussion will be moderated by career journalist and Acting Director for the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council Barbara Slavin.
  2. The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya | Tuesday, June 20 | 12:30 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The Rafik Hariri Center will convene a discussion on its new report, The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya, shedding light on the rise of jihadist actors in Libya and the dangers they pose for post-conflict state-building. As Libya continues to hold an important position in the global jihadist network, understanding the trajectories of groups like ISIS will be crucial to understanding the fate of the country and sources of its instability. The report, co-authored by panelists Jason Pack, Rhiannon Smith, and Karim Mezran, examines jihadist dynamics in Libya and offers recommendations to address this threat. RAND Corporation’s Christopher Chivvis will also join the discussion.
  3. Indian Prime Minister Modi visits the U.S. and Israel | Wednesday, June 21 | 9:30 am – 12 pm | Brookings Institute | Register Here | On June 25-26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet with President Trump for the first time. Shortly after, he will travel to Israel for the first-ever visit by an Indian premier. Join The India Project and the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings for one panel each focused on India’s relationship with the United States and Israel – two countries with which it enjoys close partnerships. Panelists will discuss prospects for bilateral, trilateral, and international cooperation. After each session, panelists will take audience questions.
  4. Securing Stability in the Middle East and North Africa: How Should the U.S. and the European Union Work Together? | Wednesday, June 21 5:30-6:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | As war rages on in Syria and Yemen, instability persists in the Sinai and Libya, and the recent Qatar crisis underscores rivalries and animosities in the Middle East and North Africa, American and European actors search for ways to bring stability to the MENA region. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Mike Doran welcomes Nick Westcott, European External Action Service Managing Director for the MENA, for a discussion about European policy and cooperation moving forward. Doors open at 5:00 pm.
  5. The Refugee Crisis: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions | Wednesday, June 21 | 6:30-8 pm | United Nations Association – National Capital Area | Register Here | Since President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, negative perceptions of immigrants and refugees have been on the rise. Against this climate, the UNA-NCA presents personal accounts of refugees in the D.C. area and a panel discussion featuring Niemat Ahmadi, president of the Darfur Women Action Group; Faith Akovi Cooper, regional advisor at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre; Larry Yungk, Senior Resettlement Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate at Refugees International, to dispel myths and misconceptions. The panel will be moderated by Patrick Realiza, chair of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee.
  6. Settlements at 50 Years – An Obstacle to Peace and Democracy | Friday, June 23 | 12:30-1:45 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | This month marks 50 years of Israeli control over the West Bank. Although most Israelis support peace negotiations with the Palestinians and oppose annexing large parts of the Palestinian Territories, the Israeli government continues to expand settlements and is considering annexing portions of the West Bank. What drives the Israeli government in this regard? What are the implications for future peace? Join president of the New Israel Fund (NIF) Talia Sasson for a conversation moderated by Haaretz‘s Washington correspondent Amir Tibon.
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Still adrift

After a rough start, the Trump Administration has gotten more plaudits lately: the cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield and the Mother of All Bombs used in Afghanistan pleased those who wanted the United States to show more “resolve.” Vice President Pence then used those two attacks to suggest that North Korea should not try to test the President, all but laying down a new red line. The US would react, he suggested, if Pyongyang tested missiles or a nuclear weapon.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Mattis is rallying allies in the Middle East and National Security Adviser McMaster has been in Afghanistan and India. The President has met with the NATO Secretary General, signed on to Montenegrin accession to the Alliance, endorsed the Export-Import Bank, and certified that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal.

That is all good. It is starting to look like a more or less normal American administration, even if it is using force with more abandon than its predecessor.

It’s not, mainly because of Trump himself. His congratulatory phone call to Turkey’s President Erdogan was the tip-off, as it ignored the obvious problem of a popular referendum used to establish autocratic powers. While Mattis and McMaster are adults who will try to do things right and steer Trump in productive directions, the President’s instincts and mode of operation still raise serious questions. No clear strategy has followed up either the Syrian or the Afghanistan attack. President Assad is still killing civilians with abandon, with help from the Russians and Iranians. The Taliban are still making progress in Afghanistan, perhaps more than ever before. Unless something changes, both American attacks will soon be seen as one-offs that presage no serious plan in either country.

The North Korean situation is similar. While the Americans boast that all means are on the table, Kim Jong-un knows perfectly well that his tens of thousands of conventional artillery pieces targeted on Seoul’s more than 20 million people will deter Washington from serious use of military force. Pence’s bravado was aimed squarely at the American and Chinese audiences. The best he can expect from Pyongyang is a willingness to talk. Kim does not back down on development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, because they are the guarantee of his regime’s survival.

Even if the Chinese exert their maximum leverage, Pyongyang is likely to stay adamant. Meanwhile, the Americans made fools of themselves by losing track of the carrier battle group the White House and Pentagon had said was on its way towards the Korean peninsula when in fact it was near Indonesia. I can only guess how much laughter that is causing in Beijing and Pyongyang. They’ve certainly now learned to doubt whatever Trump claims, which would have been wise anyway.

Despite this and other gaffes, there is at least some reversion to a more normal foreign policy direction. Secretary of State Tillerson remains alone at the State Department, with no other presidential appointees. That in a way is good, as it leaves any issues on which the Administration has given no new guidance in the hands of professionals who will continue to do what they were doing before, albeit with a bit less confidence and a bit more hedging of their bets. But any real progress depends on developing strategies for Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea, not to mention Yemen and Libya, that are clear and achievable. In other words, we are still adrift.


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My Goldilocks solution for the Middle East

In the final report of their Middle East Strategy Task Force issued yesterday, Steve Hadley and Madeleine Albright say

…the days of external powers trying to orchestrate and even dictate political reality in the region are finished. So is a regional political order of governments demanding obedience in return for public sector employment and related state subsidies.

They paint instead a future of external powers collaborating to help end civil wars, listening to local voices, and interacting with more responsive and inclusive governments. Their sovereignty restored, if need be by military action, these governments would join in partnerships with each other and compacts with external powers to encourage local initiatives, harness human resources, and incentivize regional cooperation. What’s not to like?

It’s that premise, which looks to me wrong. The US decisions not to or orchestrate or dictate a political outcome in Syria and Libya do not mean that the days of international intervention are over. Russia and Iran are for now doing quite well at it, even if in the end I think they will regret it. Egypt has in fact restored its autocracy and Bashar al Assad clearly intends to do so in Syria. Does anyone imagine that the post-war regime in Yemen will be a more inclusive and responsive one? It isn’t likely in Libya either.

I agree with Madeleine and Steve that failing to implement something like the reforms they point to will likely mean continuation of instability, incubation of extremists, and jihadist resurgence, even if the war against Islamic State is successful in removing it from its control of territory in Iraq and Syria. The instability in the Middle East is clearly the result of governance failures associated with the Arab republics, which had neither the direct control over oil resources required to buy off their citizens nor the wisdom to empower them and enable more decentralized and effective governance.

The question, which Ken Pollack rightly asks, is whether the US has the will and the resources required even to begin to end the civil wars and encourage the required reforms. I think the answer is all too obviously “no.” Ken suggests this means the US would be wiser to flee than to fight with inadequate means.

But the way in which we flee matters. It is the US military presence in the Middle East, which represents upwards of 90% of the costs, that needs to draw down, if only because it is a terrorist target and helps them to recruit. It totals on the order of $80 billion per year, a truly astronomical sum. While I haven’t done a detailed analysis, it is hard to imagine that we couldn’t draw down half the US military in the Middle East once the Islamic State has been chased from the territory it controls without much affecting the things Ken thinks we should still care about: Israel, terrorism, and oil.

Oil is the one so many people find inescapable, including Ken. It is traded in a global market, so a disruption anywhere means a price hike everywhere, damaging the global economy. But there are far better ways to avoid an oil price hike than sending a US warship into the strait of Hormuz, which only makes the price hike worse. For example:

  1. getting India and China to carry 90 days of imports as strategic stocks (as the International Energy Agency members do),
  2. encouraging them to join in multilateral naval efforts to protect oil trade,
  3. getting oil producers to build pipelines that circumvent Hormuz (and the Bab al Mandab), and
  4. encouraging Iran and Saudi Arabia to build a multilateral security system for the Gulf that enables all the riparian states a minimum of protection from their neighbors while encouraging protection as well for their own populations.

I would add that we need to continue to worry about nuclear proliferation, because the Iran deal only provides a 15-year hiatus, and to provide assistance to those in the Middle East who are ready and willing to try to reform their societies in directions that respect human rights.

All of this requires far more diplomatic commitment than we have been prepared to ante up lately, but it is not expensive (for the US) or unimaginable for others. A vigorous diplomatic effort far short of what Madeleine and Steve advocate but far more than Ken’s “flight” is the right formula in my view.


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Let’s enjoy this election evening!

I’m doing a press briefing on the implications of the American election for foreign policy in a few hours. Here are the speaking notes I’ve prepared for myself: 

  1. It is a pleasure to be with you tonight, as America concludes an ugly election campaign and decides on its 45th president.
  1. I won’t pretend to be neutral: I have supported Hillary Clinton with words, money, and even knocking on doors in West Philadelphia.
  1. But in these opening remarks, I would like to focus first not on the candidates but rather on the process, which is a complicated one.
  1. One consequence is that there is little uniformity: as you’ll see tonight, the states will close their polls at different times, starting in just a few minutes at 7 pm with Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia.
  1. The initial results will likely favor Trump, but swing states North Carolina and Ohio close their polls at 7:30 pm and by 8 pm lots of Clinton states close their polls.
  1. Key then will be Florida and Pennsylvania, and at 9 pm Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Clinton could be in trouble if she doesn’t win there.
  1. In the meanwhile, you’ll be getting exit polling from many of the “swing” states, those that might go one way or the other. Exit polls in my view are not terribly reliable: sampling errors can be significant, and in many states a significant percentage of people have already voted.
  1. Not only are rules and procedures decided by the states, but the vote in each state determines that state’s votes in the electoral college that meets in state capitals on December 19.
  1. Each state has a number of electoral votes equal to its number of Representatives and Senators. Because each state has two senators, this favors less populous (more Republican) states, but the reliably Democratic District of Columbia, which has no senators, gets three votes as well.
  1. As a result, an election can be close in the popular vote (polling suggests Trump and Clinton are within 3 or 4 percentage points of each other), but the electoral college difference can be big.
  1. If Trump were to get fewer than 200 electoral votes (and Clinton the remaining 338 plus), that might be considered a landslide, even if the popular vote is close.
  1. It is also possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote and win in the electoral college. That happened with George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. I went to bed convinced Gore had won.
  1. By morning, the Florida controversy had erupted and the election was eventually decided in the Supreme Court, which allowed Florida’s determination of the winner to stand and Bush to become President without a popular vote majority.
  1. The lesson here is don’t go to bed too early tonight. It may be late before the outcome is clear and unequivocal. In the last three elections it was past 11 pm.
  1. What does it all mean for foreign policy?
  1. First, I think an uncontested and clear outcome is highly desirable. The world does not need another month of uncertainty about who will be the 45th president.
  1. Second, there are dramatic differences between Trump, who prides himself on unpredictability, and Clinton, who has a long track record well within the post-911 foreign policy consensus.
  1. Trump is erratic, inconsistent, and hyperbolic. He wants to put America first, which he has defined not only as ignoring others, blocking immigrants, and doubting America’s alliances but also destroying the existing international trading system and illogically pursuing a bromance with Vladimir Putin.
  1. Clinton is committed, studious, internationalist, all perhaps to a fault. She once pursued a reset with Putin that failed. She wants to maintain the stability of the international system and restore American authority some think President Obama surrendered in his retrenchment.
  1. A word or two about what this all means in some important parts of the world.
  1. In the Middle East and Europe, including the Baltics and Ukraine, Clinton is far more likely to push back on Russian aggressiveness than Trump.
  1. In Asia, Trump has occasionally talked tough about China’s trade policy and suggested that South Korea and Japan might want to get their own nuclear weapons.
  1. Clinton would certainly not want that but might also be tough with China on trade. She would likely want to continue to build up American alliances in Asia, including with India and Vietnam.
  1. Both Clinton and Trump oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but Clinton would likely want to renegotiate parts of it and proceed while Trump would scrap it entirely.
  1. Presidents do not always get to decide which issues they focus on. I would expect Moscow and Beijing, and perhaps others, to take an early opportunity to test the new president.
  1. An incident involving China in the South China Sea? North Korean launch of a missile that could reach the US? A new push by Russian-supported insurgents in Donbas? An incident with Iranian ships or missiles in the Gulf? A massive cyberattack?
  1. Clinton understands the capabilities and limits of American power, as well as the need for allied support. Trump does not. He mistakes bravado for strength and unpredictability for leverage.
  1. Most of the world understands this and favors Clinton. Moscow may not be alone in favoring Trump, but it is certainly lonely.
  1. Those of us who enjoy foreign policy for a living—Republicans as well as Democrats like me—will likewise be almost universally relieved if she, not he, becomes president.
  1. But the evening is young. Let’s enjoy it with some questions!
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Peace picks May 16-20

  1. The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East | Monday, May 16th | 12:00-1:30 | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Less than twenty-four months after the hope-filled Arab uprising, the popular movement had morphed into a dystopia of resurgent dictators, failed states, and civil wars. Marc Lynch’s new book, The New Arab Wars, is a profound illumination of the causes of this nightmare. It details the costs of the poor choices made by regional actors, delivers a scathing analysis of Western misreading of the conflict, and questions international interference that has stoked the violence. Please join us for a discussion of the book’s main findings with Marc Lynch, moderated by Michele Dunne, director and a senior associate in Carnegie’s Middle East Program. A light lunch will provided from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. The discussion will begin at 12:30 p.m., with an introduction by Carnegie President William J. Burns. Following the discussion, copies of the book will be available for sale with signing by the author.
  1. Preventing Another Tragedy: The Plight of Crimean Tatars | Monday, May 16th | 12:00-1:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | On May 18, 1944, the Soviet Union began the deportation of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. Decades later, Tatars returned to an independent Ukraine. Since Russia’s illegally attempted annexation of Crimea in 2014, Crimean Tatars have born the brunt of increasing human rights violations in the peninsula: they suffer searches, kidnappings, torture, and killings, and authorities shut down their cultural institutions. Recently, the Russian authorities banned the Mejlis, the Tatars’ legislature. The panel will discuss the Crimean Tatars’ plight, and how the West should respond to the human rights situation and the efforts to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. We hope you can join us for this important and timely discussion ahead of Ukraine’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Panelists include Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador, Embassy of Ukraine, Emine Dzheppar, First Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information Policy, Ukraine, Dr. Agnia Grigas, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and John Herbst, Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council.
  1. TPP: A Strategic Imperative—A Conversation with Admiral Michael Mullen | Monday, May 16th | 5:00-6:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Debate on the merits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) often overlook its strategic ramifications. This is true whether on the presidential campaign trail or in the soon-to-be-released International Trade Commission report on the deal’s economic impact. But trade carries both economic and security ramifications. How would TPP help to secure strategic US leadership in Asia and partnership in Latin America at a time of global uncertainty? Join us for the first public event in which Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, will speak on the national security implications of TPP. Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Chairman, Atlantic Council, will make introductory remarks. Jason Marczak, Director, Latin America Economic Growth Initiative, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, Atlantic Council, will moderator.
  1. Dadaab to Dollo Ado: Why East Africa’s Refugee Crisis Can No Longer Be Ignored | Tuesday, May 17th | 9:00-10:30 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | On May 6, 2016, the government of Kenya announced plans to end the hosting of refugees by closing the world’s largest refugee camp and taking other steps that would put the safety of nearly 600,000 people at risk. Kenya has played a vital leadership role in East Africa for decades by providing safety to people forced to flee war and persecution in Somalia, South Sudan,and other neighboring countries. The news may affect other countries hosting refugees from the same conflicts, including Ethiopia, where drought and insecurity make humanitarian response increasingly complex. Join the Wilson Center for a conversation with the Kenya and Ethiopia country representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency on these emerging developments and current efforts to respond to what have tragically become “forgotten crises” at a time when global conflict and displacement are at a historical high. It is a year full of opportunities to improve the response to such crises, including this month’s World Humanitarian Summit and two September summits on refugees being convened by the United Nations General Assembly and President Obama. Panelists include Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience at the Wilson Center, John Thon Majok, Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, Raouf Mazou, Representative in Kenya, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Clementine Awu Nkweta-Salami, Representative in Ethiopia, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  1. Broken Borders, Broken States: One Hundred Years After Sykes-Picot | Tuesday, May 17th | 9:00-1:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, regularly cited as the document that sanctioned the division of the former Ottoman Empire into British and French zones of influence, creating new states and drawing new borders, was never implemented. The boundaries negotiated by Mark Sykes and Francois Picot were superseded by political reality, and the post war-map of the region bore almost no resemblance to that drawn by the two diplomats. The failure of the Sykes-Picot agreement, and the history of what eventually shaped the post-Ottoman order in the Middle East, is critical in analyzing the current turmoil in the region and the forces that might shape it in the future. Panels and panelists may be found here.
  1. Higher education in Syria: Protecting academia amid civil war | Tuesday, May 17th | 10:00-11:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The war in Syria has generated the 21st century’s worst humanitarian crisis, with as many as 300,000 Syrians killed and half the population displaced. This violence and insecurity has also had a devastating impact on professors, university students, and the country’s education sector, exemplifying the consequences when scholars are targeted. Before the conflict, Syria boasted one of the Middle East’s largest and most well-established higher education systems. War, however, has decimated the university system inside the country, and amongst the refugees are an estimated 2,000 university professionals and a minimum of 100,000 university-qualified students. On May 17, the Center for Universal Education at Brookings will host a panel discussion to explore the frequently overlooked impact of the Syrian crisis, and the broader political and security implications on higher education in conflict settings. The panel will also highlight the Institute for International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, which supports visiting appointments for threatened scholars worldwide, as well as perspectives from a Syrian beneficiary of the fund. After the session, panelists will take audience questions. Panelists include Mohammad Alahmad, Visiting Lecturer, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, Rochelle Davis, Associate Professor and Academic Director in Arab Studies, Georgetown University, Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, and Jennifer L. Windsor, Chief Executive Officer, Women for Women International. Rebecca Winthrop, Director, Center for Universal Education.
  1. Human rights in a turbulent world: A conversation with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein | Tuesday, May 17th | 12:15-1:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In today’s world, threats to human rights abound, challenging the fabric of so many societies: The war in Syria has shattered the lives of millions, with human rights under attack on multiple fronts; rising authoritarianism is curtailing basic liberties in many countries; and the rights of women and marginalized communities remain under constant pressure around the world. International tools for responding to and preventing human rights violations are proliferating, but political will for action is weak. On May 17, Foreign Policy at Brookings will host U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for an Alan and Jane Batkin International Leaders Forum focusing on the international progress and challenges facing human rights and how the United Nations is meeting them. High Commissioner Zeid will offer his assessment of how the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and other U.N. bodies are working to ensure effective global action to safeguard human rights in today’s turbulent context. High Commissioner Zeid will speak on the U.N.’s role in the field, its impact, and its contributions to the prevention of crises and early warning of unfolding human rights violations. After the program, the speaker will take questions from the audience.
  1. A Conversation with The Right Honourable Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of the Republic of Namibia | Tuesday, May 17th | 2:30-4:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Namibia has been lauded for its success in generating economic growth, establishing democracy, and ensuring political stability. But this success story still faces important challenges ahead. Sparsely-populated and with vast deserts, Namibia is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The need to provide more opportunities women, reduce poverty, expand educational and economic opportunities, and incorporate the next generation of women leaders, particularly given the country’s vast youth bulge, is critical. What’s next for Namibia as it tackles these and other key issues? Join as we discuss these fascinating successes and challenges ahead with the country’s Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila. Other speakers include Melvin P. Foote, President, Constituency for Africa, and Gwen Young, Director, Women in Public Service Project.
  1. India in Asia: A Conversation with Nirupama Rao | Wednesday, May 18th | 10:30-12:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Asia region boasts two-thirds of the world’s population, and will soon house more wealth than any other region. Its military reach is expanding globally, and it is home to several rising powers. Ambassador Nirupama Rao, a former Indian foreign secretary and one of her country’s most distinguished diplomats, will discuss how she envisions the role of India in its broader neighborhood, with particular attention to the Asia Pacific. What are India’s objectives? What are the opportunities and challenges? How should the past inform present policy? And what are the implications for India’s relations with the United States? This event marks the launch of the Wilson Center’s India in Asia initiative—one meant to fill a need in the Washington discussion of what may be the world’s next superpower, and that seeks to advance U.S. understanding of India. The initiative examines how one of Washington’s key partners engages in one of the world’s key regions—one to which the U.S. pledges to rebalance. Topics will encompass diplomacy, security, economics, and trade.
  1. Civilian Suffering in Arab Conflicts: A Discussion with Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch | Wednesday, May 18th | 12:00-1:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Throughout the last decade, the human cost of Arab conflicts has affected millions in the region as well as populations across the transatlantic community. Policy makers and humanitarian leaders often address these conflicts at cross purposes given divergent—and seemingly incompatible—priorities. Please join us on May 18 for a discussion with executive director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth to explore these priorities. Are there options to protect civilians in Syria that would not only save lives but also reduce the flow of refugees to Europe that is destabilizing the continent, and diminish the recruiting capabilities of extremist organizations including the Islamic State (ISIS)? Do similar trends span across the region’s conflicts, suggesting there exists a shared interest that could lead to cooperative action by governmental and nongovernmental decision-makers?
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Hagel uncontrollable and unpredictable

Frederick Kempe and Chuck Hagel. PC: Eddie Grove
Frederick Kempe and Chuck Hagel. PC: Eddie Grove

On Wednesday, the Atlantic Council hosted a conversation with former Secretary of Defense Hagel. He detailed the policy issues and challenges that arose during his tenure as Secretary of Defense, discussed his relationship with the Obama Administration, and provided advice to US policymakers going forward. Fred Kempe,  President and CEO, Atlantic Council, interviewed the Secretary and moderated the discussion.




Kempe began with some background about Hagel’s tenure as Secretary of Defense. He was the first Secretary of Defense in decades to face shrinking budgets at a time of increased demand for US military force. Sequester began on his third day in office. He also faced the Russian invasion of Crimea, the fight against ISIS, a difficult US-Egypt relationship, and the Iran negotiations.

Kempe asked Secretary Hagel to provide his thoughts on Iran’s capture and subsequent release of US sailors this week. Secretary Hagel said he doesn’t have the intelligence information he once had, but that the US is pleased with the sailors’ release. There will be an investigation of what happened and why. He strongly supported the nuclear negotiations with Iran. This incident put the deal in jeopardy, especially since the removal of sanctions commences this weekend. If the Iranians hadn’t released the sailors, they would have put sanctions relief in jeopardy.

Hagel described what he saw as a new world order developing now. We are witnessing the greatest diffusion of economic power in history combined with rapid demographic changes. The world order that the US and its allies built post-Word War II has done well; there has been no World War III or nuclear exchange.  These alliances will become even more important in this century. As the world has progressed, more people have greater expectations regarding what their rights are.

The world is unpredictable. Leaders need to build margins into their planning. While the US is the most powerful nation on earth, we shouldn’t dictate or impose. Most Americans were born after World War II and expect an America that dominates in every way. But we’ve made big mistakes stemming from not paying attention to other cultures. American leadership is indispensable, but Americans must be humble about this. We can’t fix every problem, but countries do rely on American leadership to bring them together.

American leadership is essential for global stability. We should remain engaged, but not be afraid of other countries becoming successful. We need to adapt to the world’s shifting demographics without abandoning our values. We shouldn’t impose our specific brand of Western democracy on all countries. As Kissinger has said, we need to help countries develop their own democracies for their own contexts. The common threads of all democracies are dignity for all, freedom of initiative, and incentives for hard work and responsibility.

The US has made some unfortunate mistakes.
In this recent Foreign Policy article, Secretary Hagel had some harsh words for the Obama Administration.
In this recent Foreign Policy article, Secretary Hagel had some harsh words for the Obama Administration.

Kempe wanted Hagel to review his recent article in Foreign Policy in which he criticized the way he was treated by the Obama Administration. Hagel did not want to rehash everything he said in the article, but stated that all administrations try to dominate their cabinets. In this sense, the Obama Administration is no different from previous administrations, but each successive administration in recent years has tried to dominate more.

This is unhealthy because it undercuts governing. Governing is not the same as domination. Every institution requires the support of good people and those in charge need to trust these people and rely on them to govern with them. The two most important jobs in every administration are the National Security Advisor and the Chief of Staff because all decision making flows through them. The Secretary of Defense doesn’t make policy but is the implementer and operator of the policies that the President wants. When the President dominates those whom he/she is supposed to rely on it impedes his/her ability to govern. In addition, there were too many meetings with too many people in the room; this creates chaos because everyone wants to talk and show how smart they are.  Every President faces challenges, uncontrollables, and unknowables.

POTUS must plan for the unexpected.

Every President also has his/her own style. But it’s hard to bring in the best people if they think they will be overloaded with meetings, micromanaged and second-guessed.

Given the fact that sequester began on day three of Hagel’s tenure, Kempe wanted to know how much time he spent on budgets and if the military has enough funding to ensure American security. Hagel reminded the audience that sequester remains in effect, though cuts to military spending have been adjusted. The Pentagon requires the certainty of long-term budgets on the order of 20 years to plan the purchase of weapons systems. Sequester meant an immediate $50 billion of budget cuts, so Secretary Hagel commissioned a review to understand what was most important in the budget, both from Pentagon officials as well as from field commanders. Secretary Hagel originally though he would have to furlough his employees for 21 days, but managed to cut this down to 3-5 days. He had to halt maintenance and training for a few months.

That was followed by a 16-day government shutdown, which was irresponsible on the part of politicians. Hagel refused to comply with the shutdown, though some employees were absent for 16 days. It is terrible to damage the security of the US to make a political point. It hurt the Department of Defense. The employees ultimately got paid anyway by virtue of the unions.

Budgets took up a lot of his time. We are perilously close to not having enough funds to defend our national security interests. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have to testify in front of Congress to give their opinion on whether the current budget is sufficient to guarantee American national security interests; they are getting close to having to say no. We can do with fewer submarines, for instance, but that will come with a long-term price. Once we have two presidential candidates, they must be clear about what they think the US role in the world is and what our national security interests are. Read more

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