International Relations

2008 08 10
“less to geostrategic calculations than to . . . Putin’s cold war mentality”

James Traub has an interesting piece in the NYT about the current conflict between Russia and Georgia. But what’s up with this:

Georgia, with its open embrace of the West, thus represents a threat to the legitimacy of Russia’s authoritarian model. And this challenge is immensely compounded by Georgia’s fervent aspiration to join NATO, one of Russia’s red lines. Russian officials frequently recall that President Bill Clinton promised Boris Yeltsin that NATO would not expand beyond Eastern Europe. Of course NATO is no longer an anti-Soviet alliance, and the fact that Russia views NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat to its security is a vivid sign of the deep-rooted cold war mentality of Mr. Putin and his circle.

And then later on this:

People of all political persuasion now seem to get it about Russia. In “The Return of History and The End of Dreams,” Robert Kagan, the neoconservative foreign policy expert who is advising John McCain, writes of Mr. Putin and his coterie: “Their grand ambition is to undo the post-cold war settlement and to re-establish Russia as a dominant power in Eurasia.” Michael McFaul, a Russia expert at Stanford who is advising Barack Obama, also views Russia as a premodern, sphere-of-influence power. He attributes Russia’s hostility to further NATO expansion less to geostrategic calculations than to what he says is Mr. Putin’s cold war mentality. The essential Russian calculus, he says, is, “Anything we can do to weaken the U.S. is good for Russia.”

Is a Russian leader being paranoid and stuck in the past if he fears the eastward expansion of a powerful rival military alliance, after a promise that it won’t happen? It is not at all clear to me that Russia should be sanguine about NATO’s expansion. Does Traub suppose that member nations of NATO will always have the purest intentions when they deal with Russia? Even with the purest intentions, NATO countries are bound to have conflicts with Russia over a number of issues. Is he sure that the fact that they belong to a powerful military alliance will have no influence over their policies? I have a very healthy loathing of Putin and everything he stands for, but I can’t take much pleasure about seeing his concern on this point so arrogantly dismissed.

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2008 08 09
Recently read: “The Dark Side”

Jane Mayer. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

After the scandal of Abu Grieb, the Bush administration insisted that the torture and abuse of detainees had been the work of a few bad apples. But of course the abuse was only a manifestation of a much deeper rot, for which top officials bore primary responsibility. I’ve sometimes had the impression of similar excuse-making in the attitudes of even some of the fiercest critics of the Bush administration, in the claim that the Bush administration represents a radical and unprecedented break with the past. It strikes me as naive to depict the Bush administration as a few bad apples, in an otherwise upright tradition legal and ethical conduct. On the contrary, the Bush administration seems to me part of a larger moral and legal rot that is systemic, and has unfortunately deep roots in American political culture (alongside much more admirable tendencies and traditions).

Jane Meyer’s new book The Dark Side has helped me to reflect on, and to a certain extent, modify, these assumptions. Mayer is familiar with the Church Committee, and with past American abuses of power. She doesn’t base her argument for a significant break with the past on what the Bush administration has done so much as on the legal arguments that the administration has advanced, most often in secrecy, to defend and support its policies. Much of this is new, and its long-term consequences are likely to be wretched.

A great deal of the action in Mayer’s book is, for this reason, legal. The new legal doctrines advanced by David Addington, Cheney’s legal counsel for the period covered by the book, and John Yoo, among others, were fiercely resisted by other lawyers in the administration. Meyer meticulously details the legal arguments and maneuvers used by various parties to this debate against the background of events in the so-called War on Terror.

Mayer book is, as far as I can tell, balanced, careful, and accurate, while rarely engaging in the pointless he-said/she-said style of reporting that so many journalists use to avoid the implications of their reporting. When an official lies, she points it out, clearly and unequivocally. A book like this is difficult to ignore, if you care at all about moral and legal issues surrounding torture and the Bush administration’s policies. If even a quarter of the book is accurate, the United States would only need to be a country serious about following its own laws for hundreds of people, from the President on down, to be put on trial for torture and other serious crimes.

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2007 11 04
Pakistan and India

Lots of talk this morning about Musharraf’s decision to declare a state of emergency. The focus in the U.S. is understandably on just how fucked the U.S. is here. But I’d like to take this moment to remind people how totally fucked India is. India’s decision to go nuclear always looked dumb, since prior to going nuclear it already had a balance of conventional power on the subcontinent. Going nuclear forced Pakistan to go nuclear, which had the effect of evening things out somewhat between the countries. But now that Pakistan is teetering on the brink of – what? A coup of some sort perhaps? Some other kind of disintegration? – whatever it’s on the brink of, India has to sit and watch and wonder who will be next to take over this unstable power, which has nuclear weapons in part because of India’s incredibly stupid adventures in strategery. Nice!

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2007 03 28
“Iranian general warns enemy not to make any crazy moves”

I notice that AOTW there appears to be absolutely nothing in the state-run Tehran Times about the British sailors recently captured by Iran. (There is, however, an awesome headline that I have used as the title of this post.) Perhaps that’s some evidence that no one on that side has figured out what the fuck they’re trying to accomplish here, or, relatedly, how to spin what has already happened.

Notice that if Iran had simply released the sailors two days ago, they would have made their point brilliantly. By forcing Britain to talk tough, they’ve now maneuvered themselves into a corner, since the tough talk from Britain means that concessions from Iran at this point will make Iran look weak. Can’t have that, can we?

Anyway, all of this is just another excuse for me to observe that in both private life and international diplomacy, one of the most valuable skills is knowing how to push back without escalating.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 03 10
Jean in Turkmenistan

The Argus reports this revolting little tidbit of retirement fun:

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien paid a visit to Turkmenistan on behalf of CalgaryÂ’s Buried Hill Energy as part of his new role as an attorney with the Calgary firm of Bennett Jones. While there, he spent an hour lobbying Turkmenbashi the Great for oil concessions, which he received.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 09 01
Russia and China in Sudan

Both Russia and China are deeply involved in Sudan, as this piece in the CSM outlines.

I keep returning to the point that the name and shame campaign over Sudan needs to go beyond the Sudanese regime and the Janjaweed. It needs to target countries that are complicit, either actively or passively, in what is happening.

I think that a lot of what presents itself as anti-anti-Americanism is misguided. The U.S. has power and influence unrivalled in the world, is to a certain extent responsive to moral criticism, and is also engaged in some very shady behaviour. A lot of heated criticism is really in order here, especially considering how much good the U.S. also has within its power to bring about. But look, there are times when it is really important to broaden the targets of fierce criticism, and this seems to be one of them. I don’t say the left is silent on this issue, but I wouldn’t mind hearing a bit more noise all the same.

Russia and China are both deeply involved in Sudanese affairs, they both have a lot of leverage over the Sudanese regime, and they both appear ready to use their permanent positions on the Security Council to block serious international pressure on Sudan. They suck, and everyone should say so.

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2004 08 16
Consequences for the Philippines?

I’m probably going to end up regretting this, but I’ll say it anyway. Not too long ago, the Philippines pulled out of Iraq at absolutely the worst moment in absolutely the worst way. Whether or not you supported the invasion, whether or not you supported the occupation, you might still agree with me that pulling out as part of a public bargain to get a hostage released was only going to make hostage taking all the more likely in the future for those who remained in Iraq. (And to be clear I think this move only superficially resembled Spain’s withdrawal.) Anyway, even if you disagree with me about that, I think everyone can agree that this was a really crushing setback for the U.S.-Phillippines relations.

Now, there was a time when the Bush administration might have dispatched Wolfie to give those naughty Filipinos a tongue-lashing. That’s precisely what they did when they were disappointed with Turkey – and it only made life much harder for everyone.

Not so this time. Or at least, not as far as I can tell. (A few good counterexamples in the comments section, and I’ll retract this post.) This time the State Department is firing off conciliatory press releases and I’ve heard nary a peep in the press about dire consequences. This is as it should be. There is still a lot of room for cooperation, and the U.S. still has enormous leverage with the Philippines, and so little would be gained by public tough talk that would only alienate the public of an ally the U.S. still has to work with.

This is not a comment about the substance of U.S.-Phillippines relations, or about the prudence of the overall terra fightin’ strategy within which that relationship is largely viewed. It’s a comment about style.

Anyway, I always end up feeling like an ass when I offer even the faintest praise for the Bush administration. Does anyone want to disabuse me of this illusion? Fire away in the comments.

Howls of outrage (4)

2004 05 19
Australia and East Timor

Daniel Geffen provides a helpful update on relations between the two countries.

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2004 05 16
Saad Ibrahim

Dan Drezner reports an exchange at a conference about Saad Ibrahim, the Egyptian dissident:
Continue Reading »

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2004 04 15

On the ropes!

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2004 04 13
Update on Martin

Well, bust my boots! Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin finally screwed up his courage and announced he would meet with the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese government is upset about it. They can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned.

Howls of outrage (3)

2004 04 09

I spend a lot of time on this site criticizing the U.S. It has been pointed out in the comments section, not unreasonably, that this can really end up giving a distorted picture of a) various global problems; and b) plausible solutions to them.

I promise to try to do better on this issue. As a first instalment, let me turn my attention to the cowardly Canadian government.

For fairly obvious reasons, the Canadian government lacks the flexibility in setting a foreign policy agenda that the United States enjoys. Sometimes, alas, we Canadians have to keep our heads down, waiting for the right occasion to pick this or that fight.

Fine. But there are a lot of things that Canada could do within these limitations which it doesn’t do. Moreover, the best explanations for inaction, or harmful action, usually involve some combination of avarice, lassitude and cowardice.

Today I’ll just name a modest example. The Prime Minister could meet with the Dalai Lama, something he has so far been too afraid to do.

This should be a no-brainer. Trade with China may be valuable, but so is holding on to our dignity. If the Chinese want to maintain the stupid lie that their conquest of Tibet was all for the good, let them do that in their own controlled press. Our Prime Minister should either stand up to the Chinese or resign.

The general point here is that smaller actors need to start taking responsibility for some of the things that we wish the U.S. would do, like promoting democratic values and so on. We’ve waited long enough for the U.S. to get its act together. It hasn’t, so it’s time to get to work.

Hat tip to Spaz.

Howls of outrage (3)

2004 04 06
Power on Rwanda and Sudan

Samantha Power has a piece in the NYT today discussing the situation in Sudan in the light of lessons learned, so we hope, from Rwanda:

The lessons of Rwanda are many. . . A third lesson is that even when the United States decides not to respond militarily, American leadership is indispensable. This is especially true because Europe continues to avoid intervening in violent humanitarian crises. And it remains true despite the Bush administration’s unpopularity abroad. The United States often takes an all-or-nothing approach: if it doesn’t send troops, it tends to foreclose other policy options.

I’m not sure whether American leadership is indispensable. If it is, I rather wish it weren’t so. The U.S. is overburdened, discredited and demoralized right now. If Sudan’s neighbours refuse constructive help, or if their involvement would only make things worse, then Europe has to do something meaningful here. I don’t mean that they should go in guns blazing. But where is a serious diplomatic effort from Europe? Where is the effort to shame Russia and China for the behaviour of their oil companies in Sudan? Where is the sense of responsibility as a global actor?

Look, if Europe really hates American hegemony, they should cut the passive-aggressive nonsense and start doing something worthwhile. Confronting ethnic cleansing would be a nice place to start, I think.

Howls of outrage (2)

2004 03 06

This piece in the New York Review of Books was pretty influential in shaping my view of the country [Haiti] before the current mess got to the front pages recently. It was very hard on Aristide, and fairly bleak about the prospects for the country under his leadership.

I’m still mulling things over – and I have to say, I haven’t heard many great things about Aristide, even from his defenders – but I’m inclined these days to think that the recent intervention there was a terrible idea. Pogge has a great post on the subject, from a Canadian perspective.

As I say, I’m still mulling things over. But I’m leaning towards Pogge’s view of events.

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2004 02 29
A retraction, of sorts

I haven’t written on Haiti much, because I simply haven’t known what to say about it. But I did say this a little while ago:

Aristide has simply no legitimacy and has – against the odds – run Haiti into even worse shape than Venezuela is in the minds of the most ardent anti-Chavez crowd. The 2000 elections in Haiti were a sham, and to say that Aristide isn’t a populist anymore would be putting it mildly.

If the US government wants to signal that it is no friend of Aristide it has my full blessing.

The main target there was actually a reporter who compared U.S. interference in Venezuela with some mild statements declining support for Aristide. And I don’t back off of that.

But it was irresponsible of me to be so cavalier about the U.S.’s attitude to Haiti without thinking through exactly who was supposed to replace Aristide if he took the hint and left. And now, it seems, he’s done exactly that. Aristide, I am convinced, was an absolute disaster for Haiti. But if the armed thugs who just helped to force him from power are any indication, some of the alternatives may be even worse.

Since I expressed approval for the U.S.’s refusal to support Aristide, the admin’s position seems to have flip-flopped a few times. The front page of today’s Times seems to suggest that the final push was the President’s call, made after a meeting with all his advisors. I wonder what they said at the meeting. In particular, I wonder if they bothered to think through what would happen once Aristide left, and whether – having gotten involved to this extent – they would be willing to fill the power vacuum they just helped to create.

I really hope someone has a plan. I know I didn’t when I shot my mouth off in that earlier post.

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