Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Obama’s Many “Number One” Priorities

December 3, 2008

Remember this simple catchphrase for priorities: “It’s the economy, stupid”?

Many think that should be the watchword for the new President Barack Obama.  But a confusing and dangerous miasma of foreign policy challenges lurks and lurches ahead. Without carefully applied wisdom, the United States could make matters worse on a wide range of international fronts and issues…

President-elect Barack Obama waits to get on his plane with ... 
President-elect Obama with his two Blackberris and some light reading.
(Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

Yesterday, two think tanks said the U.S. should move away from Iraq and work like the devil on the nuclear covetous Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran.

The Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations said it is time to make peace in the Middle east as a “top priority.”  For the past six years under President George W. Bush, U.S. foreign policy in the region has been dominated by Iraq, said Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center at Brookings, and Richard Haass, president of the Council.

Now the two agree the real problem is Iran.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives at the U.N. ... 
Nuclear aspirant: Mr. Ahmadinejad of Iran

One difficulty with this line of thinking is that, depending on the day, the think tank report one considers, and the newspaper headline, America faces stadium full of “top priorities.”

In Russia, Medvedev and Putin believe they should be tops on the Obama agenda.  Mr. Medvedev even threatened to deploy nuclear armed missiles in Eastern Europe unles and until the U.S. backed off of its missile defense ambitions with Poland and the Czech Republic.

And the Medvedev/Putin thrust cannot be overlooked: the two had no qualms about invading Georgia to get the attention of the U.S. and NATO: and it worked.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits a ballistic missile ...
Russia’s Medvedev, in front of a startegic Russian missile, said his missile advances will overwhelm U.S. defensive measures in the next few years.
AFP/Pool/File/Dmitry Astakhov

Terrorism could be the number one priority.  Just yesterday the U.S. Director of National Security said in essence that the Pakistani Islamist radical militant group  Lashkar-e-Taiba  blew up Mubai, India, last week, killing nearly 200.

On the same day, yesterday, a group of wise men said the U.S. can expect to face a biological or chemical attack.

Is another 9-11 in America’s future?  And are we ready to defend or respond?

Pakistan itself might lay claim to Mr. Obama’s top priority.  Bankrupt, last weekend rioters ripped through the nations largest city, the Pakistani Army was pinned down by terrorists in the tribal areas, and the nuclear-armed government was under fire from all domestic and international sides over Mumbai.

A Pakistani newspaper wondered yesterday if the Army was about to break with the elected government of mr. Zardari and his Minister Mr. Gilani.

Then there are a few small matters with China, North Korea and you name it.

Oh and there are just a few domestic realities and campaign promises that need our next president’s attention: OPEC and oil, drill or not to drill, schools and education, tax relief, jobs and unemployment,health care, AIDS and the list goes on.

You won’t convince me for a second that the modern miracle of multi-tasking and several Blackberries will resolve this poisonous soup.

America needs to take a deep breath and close its eyes: too much Obama-mania could cause one not to think.

Mr. Obama, the United States, all Americans and all Western allies are in for some very hard work, sacrifices of an unknown nature, and difficult decisions.

Here’s a simple truth: The age of simplicity is over.

*****

From Wikipedia:

It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase in American politics widely used during Bill Clinton‘s successful 1992 presidential campaign against George H.W. Bush. For a time, Bush was considered unbeatable because of foreign policy developments such as the end of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf war. The phrase, coined by Clinton campaign strategist James Carville, refers to the notion that Clinton was a better choice because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession.

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Experts Warn Barack Obama of ‘Hornet’s Nest’ in Middle East, Including Nuclear Iran

December 2, 2008

Iran poses the greatest foreign policy challenge to the new president with Tehran on course to produce a nuclear bomb in the first year of an Obama administration, an unprecedented coalition of top think tanks warned yesterday.

Barack Obama must follow through on his promises of direct talks with Tehran and engage the Middle East region as a whole if he is to halt a looming crisis that could be revisited on the United States, the experts warned.

President-elect Barack Obama waits to get on his plane with ... 
President-elect Obama with his two BlackBerries….
.(Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

“Diplomacy is not guaranteed to work: it is not,” Richard Hass, one of the authors said. “But the other options – military action or living with an Iranian weapon are sufficiently unattractive for it to warrant serious commitment.”

The warnings came in a report called “Restoring the Balance,” a Middle East strategy for the incoming president drafted by the Council for Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution. Gary Samore, one of the authors, said the level of alarm over the “hornet’s nest” facing the new president in the Middle East, and the need for the swift adoption of previously untested approach, had inspired the unprecedented decision to write policy for him. “New administrations can choose new policies but they can’t choose next contexts,” Mr. Samore said. “This is what they inherit.”

By

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world
/us_and_americas/us_elections/article5275647.ece

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives at the U.N. ... 
Ahmadinejad

Related:
 Obama’s Many “Number One” Priorities

Obama’s strong-willed national security team

November 30, 2008
With Clinton as secretary of State, retired Marine Gen. James Jones Jr. as national security advisor and Gates remaining in Defense, Obama will have a choice among often starkly differing views.
By Paul Richter
The Los Angeles Times
November 30, 2008
Reporting from Washington — President-elect Barack Obama says he wants to lead an administration where strong-willed senior officials are ready to argue forcefully for differing points of view.

It appears that in two months, he’ll get his wish, and then some.

Obama’s new national security team is led by three veteran officials who have differed with each other — and with the president-elect — on the full menu of security issues, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons and Arab-Israel conflict.

The president-elect is expected on Monday to begin introducing a team that includes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), whom he has chosen as secretary of State; retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr., tapped to be the new national security advisor; and Robert M. Gates, who has agreed to stay on as Defense secretary.

Clinton, Gates, Jones

Carolyn Kaster / AP; Roslan Rahman / AFP/Getty Images; Dennis Cook / AP
THE TEAM: No longer a rival, Clinton and Obama hold similar positions on many issues. Gates, center, is admired by the Obama team despite significant differences over nuclear weapons policy. Jones has separated himself from the Obama playbook on a few issues, including troop withdrawal.

Their collaboration isn’t likely to be as contentious as the first-term Bush administration battles between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney. Clinton, Gates and Jones have worked smoothly, with the only visible clashes coming between Clinton and Gates’ deputies over Iraq.

But Obama will have some clear choices among their views, which differ in nuance in some cases and more starkly in others. Obama appears to be determined to keep them in line; advisors say he believes the Pentagon has become too strong in the Bush years, and he wants to reassert White House control.

Some American supporters of Israel have already been buzzing over the potential for conflict between Clinton and Jones on Arab-Israeli issues.

Jones, an admired former Marine commandant and supreme allied commander of NATO, was appointed last November as a Bush administration envoy charged with trying to improve the often dysfunctional Palestinian security forces. As part of that assignment, he drafted a report that caused a stir in Israel by criticizing the Israeli Defense Forces’ activities in the Palestinian territories.

Read the rest:
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/washingtondc/la-na-security30-2008nov30,0,7160819.story

Fading American Economic and Military Dominance; Even More Global Danger – Experts

November 19, 2008

The top U.S. intelligence panel this week is expected to issue a snapshot of the world in 2025, in a report that predicts fading American economic and military dominance and warns of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

By Nicholas Kralev
The Washington Times

The predictions come from the National Intellignce Council (NIC), part of Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell’s office.

The NIC report, a draft copy of which is titled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” is slated for release as early as Thursday.

The report also predicts “a unified Korea” is likely by then, and that China  will be the world’s second-largest economy and a major military power.

“The United States will remain the single most powerful country, although less dominant,” according to a “working draft” of the document obtained by The Washington Times. “Shrinking economic and military capabilities may force the U.S. into a difficult set of tradeoffs between domestic and foreign-policy priorities.”

A senior intelligence official said some details have changed in the final report, but “the thrust is the same.”

The draft says:

“The next 20 years of transition toward a new international system are fraught with risks, such as a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and possible interstate conflicts over resources.”

“We see a unified Korea as likely by 2025 and assess the peninsula will probably be denuclearized, either via ongoing diplomacy or as a necessary condition for international acceptance of and cooperation with a needy new Korea.”

Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and chairman of the NIC, said Tuesday that the report “should not be viewed as a prediction.” Even “projection” is not entirely correct, he said, though he used that word several times during a luncheon at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008
/nov/19/panel-foresees-lesser-us-role/

Israel’s Military Intelligence Chief Says Wars Unlikely As World Watches Obama’s First Steps

November 18, 2008

The probability of a war between Israel and its enemies over the next year is low, military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin said Monday.

By The Associated Press
Jerusalem Post

 

Above: Military Intelligence Chief Maj. -Gen. Amos Yadlin.

Speaking Monday at Tel Aviv University, he said the world is waiting to see how the financial crisis plays out, and how the new US administration deals with the threat from Iran. He said Iran is Israel’s main threat, calling it “the regime with radical ideology and radical weapons.”

Yadlin surmised that Syria might make peace with Israel, but only if Israel gives in to all Syria’s demands, though even then, Syria would not cut ties with terror groups.

On the Israelן-Palestinian conflict, Yadlin said that Israel could deal with two entities, working toward peace with Fatah in the West Bank while confronting Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.

Last month, Yadlin told the cabinet that if Israel’s indirect talks with Syria were aimed at testing whether it might be possible to pull Damascus out of Iran and Hizbullah’s orbits, then so far the test had failed.

Despite the talks, not only has Damascus not lessened its cooperation with Hizbullah, it has actually stepped up its relationship with the organization.

Read the rest:
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite
?cid=1226404760231&pagename=JPos
t%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Russia and The West: How To Reverse Escalation of Tension and Confrontation?

November 18, 2008

Barely one hour after Barack Obama’s victory speech, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced plans to deploy missiles in Russia’s westernmost region of Kaliningrad that could attack U.S. military targets in Poland. The targets are limited, small in number and do not yet really exist: They will exist if and when the United States completes the ballistic missile defense system it plans to place in Poland, along with a sophisticated radar component in the Czech Republic.

The reaction in Europe and the United States ranged from outrage in Poland to serious concern at NATO headquarters and disappointment in the White House. Russia claims it has been backed into a corner by U.S. erosion of key cornerstones of European and global security and by aggressive moves to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into areas that affect Russia’s vital security interests.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Chinese President ... 
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev (R) and Chinese President Hu Jintao shake hands during a bilateral meeting after the G20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy in Washington November 15, 2008.REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Vladimir Rodionov

How did we arrive at this point? Russia sees new threats from NATO and the United States, and they see new threats from Russia. And even where they see common dangers — as in the case of potential and actual missile threats from Asia and the Middle East — they cannot find common ground on how to deal with them. How do we reverse this steady escalation of tension and confrontation?

By Greg Austin
UPI

Related:
Russia’s Medvedev Learned PR Skills from Hitler, Chavez, Khrushchev and Putin?

Russia’s Putin and the Great Deception

Read the rest:
http://www.upi.com/Emerging_Threats/2008/11/17/
Outside_View_Russias_new_start_–_Part_1/UPI-371
11226965683/#top

Condoleezza Rice On What Obama Faces

November 16, 2008

On Jan. 20, Barack Obama will inherit a world very different from the one his predecessor found in January 2001. Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has faced great challenges and nurtured grand ambitions; it has tried hard to remake the world. Condoleezza Rice has been a central player in that effort since becoming the candidate Bush’s chief foreign-policy adviser in 2000, so we arranged to interview her at the State Department late last month. The interview turned into a wide-ranging discussion of where this government has taken the United States and what sort of world it will leave for the next president. The editors have culled the highlights of her remarks in the text that follows. We also spoke with other administration foreign-policy makers — Christopher Hill and Daniel Fried of the State Department and Gen. James L. Jones, former supreme allied commander, Europe — whose remarks supplement and illuminate those of Rice.

By HELENE COOPER and SCOTT L. MALCOMSON
The New York Times (Sunday Magazine)

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/magazine/16rice-
t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine&oref=slogin

New Secretary Faces Fixing Under-Resourced State Department

November 15, 2008
On news that president-elect Barack Obama is considering Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of state, Fox News brought out Democratic strategist Bob Bechel this morning who asked, “What does Hillary really want to do?  Get more post offices for the finger lakes region of New York or, as Secretary of state, visit European capitols and China?” In my opinion, this is one of the key problems with the State Department.  The Secretary of State often enjoys being “diplomat and traveler in chief” but often ignores his or her role as a key department head of the U.S. government charged with actually managing the Department of State.  During Condoleezza Rice’s time this came to a head when several of State’s diplomats refused to go to assignments in “hot spots” like Iraq.  These “public servants” were mostly coddled and cajoled while U.S. military volunteers, who take the same oath of service as State’s employees, face discipline when they refuse orders or assignments.  The point is that the next Secretary of State will have to deal with Russia, Iran, Iraq, China, Pakistan the Middle East and a host of other ‘hot spots.”  He or she will have to also get and keep the State Department at Foggy Bottom in line, on track, and in order — or it will become foggier still….

 
Seal of the United States Department of State

 

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 15, 2008; Page A04

The next secretary of state not only will face the challenge of repairing the nation’s tattered image and grappling with an array of global crises and hot spots, but also must solve a problem closer to home: reforming an under-resourced State Department to handle its growing duties, such as rebuilding war-torn societies, coping with worldwide pandemics and working with other countries to curb global warming.

“In the last eight years, we have significantly reinvented and transformed every national security agency except the Department of State,” said Philip D. Zelikow, who served as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Our core Foreign Service officers and aid officers are not large enough to play the role that’s been cast for them, nor do we have the training establishment to prepare them for their roles.”

Speculation swirled yesterday that President-elect Barack Obama might be ready to offer the secretary of state post to an instantly recognizable star, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). But other contenders apparently remain in the mix, including Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; and retiring GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.). And after watching a administration whose tenure was marked by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world appears ready for the nation’s new top diplomat — whomever it may be — to lead the reinvigorated diplomacy Obama has pledged to deliver.

“The next president and the next secretary come into office at a time when our economy is in recession, our military is tied down and our reputation is tarnished,” said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Diplomatic tools are arguably the one set of instruments that are available. It’s a natural moment for American diplomacy.”

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/14/AR2008111403505.html

Time To Manage Iraq and Russia like flashing traffic lights

November 12, 2008

“Ready, Fire, Aim” caricatures how U.S. administrations and governments often behave. Had George W. Bush  not succumbed to this syndrome in going to war in Iraq, President-elect John McCain might be fashioning his transition. Instead, millions at home and abroad are congratulating and saluting the next American president, Barack Obama.  

By Harlan Ullman
Op-Ed
The Washington Times

Flush with a historic victory, the Obama team is planning his administration. President Bush has promised full cooperation. Despite the danger warnings, will Mr. Obama and his senior advisors fall into the trap of ready, fire, aim in translating campaign promises and slogans into policies and in selecting people for high office? The electoral rout of Republicans giving Democrats large majorities in both Houses of Congress will add political adrenaline rather than restraint to this transition process.

Clearly, economic and financial crises along with the war in Iraq and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan will rise to the top of Mr. Obama’s already overcrowded agenda filled with a myriad of other competing pressures and decisions that must be made. So what can Mr. Obama and his team do to ensure that his administration will reflect aims and objectives based on the nation’s best interests rather than on campaign sound bites, political IOU’s and partisan biases? Step one is defining the problems and the possible corrective actions. Step two is identifying the skill sets that will be needed in assembling a team for governing. Step three is prioritizing step one and connecting with step two. Given the on-going wars and economic crises, Mr. Obama will be under great pressure to make these choices quickly if only to build public confidence in his ability to lead.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks during a meeting with ...
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks during a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow November 11, 2008.REUTERS/Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool (RUSSIA)

Consider three of the most pressing issues: the economy, Iraq and with President Dmitry Medvedev’s latest challenge to install short range missiles along its western borders to counter the missile defense systems being installed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Mr. Obama’s economic team will extend far beyond his choice for Treasury. The heads of the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers are part of the team. The skill sets must include wide experience in economic crises; deep appreciation of macro-and microeconomics and business; and master political abilities to deal with diverse and often adversarial constituencies. No person has all of these qualities. But which are most important for each position? That judgment should drive the choice and not merely the need to name names of people who are competent but not necessarily in the crucial areas.

An employee shows dollar notes at a foreign exchange unit at ...

At the same time, Mr. Obama has promised to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. The other 5 percent however pay the lion’s share of taxes. And if the Bush tax cuts are not extended next year, everyone’s pocket book will be hit. A cardinal rule in times of recession is not to raise taxes. The new team better understand this reality, otherwise the economic mess will worsen irrespective of campaign slogans and promises.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iran’s Ahmadinejad

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/n
ov/12/with-all-deliberate-speed/

U.S. shows that soft power can work in a hard war

November 12, 2008

Soft power is about to come to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) – America’s military command in the Middle East – in a big way.

Gary Schaub Jr.
The Washington Times

Associated Press U.S. Central Command's Gen. David Petraeus speaks during an interview last week at a U.S. military base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Above: Central Command’s Gen. David Petraeus speaks during an interview last week at a U.S. military base.  Photo by the Associated Press

By winning friends and influencing people, the idea goes, the United States can defuse potential conflicts before they start and achieve America’s goals without firing a shot.

Soft power has currency in a cash-strapped U.S. military. The commander of SOUTHCOM, America’s military command for Central and South America, has undertaken many such missions. Adm. James Stavridis has sent Navy hospital ships to countries in that area to provide free medical care, train local doctors and build schools.

The new command in Africa – AFRICOM – has announced that such soft-power missions will be its top priority.

But these are relative backwaters. CENTCOM, where the United States is engaged in two wars and is prepared for others, is where soft power will have its largest impact.

Army Gen. David Petraeus, who is best known as the general behind the successful “surge” strategy in Iraq, has just taken over CENTCOM, and he is bringing soft power to bear.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2
008/nov/11/us-shows-that-soft-power-
can-work-in-a-hard-war/