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Plenty of hypocrisy in lots of quarters, Sally, but also flashes of principle. And on nuclear policy President Obama has been turning the ship of state in the right direction--reaffirming (for the first time in a quarter century) the destination of a nuclear-free world (neither the two Bushes nor Clinton ever even paid lip-service to this goal, mandated in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Obama has effected steep reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals as a first big step toward toward that goal, and forged an agreement at the NPT review conference in 2010 that calls, among other things, for a conference late this year to create a Mideast nuclear-weapons free zone. (By comparison, the Bush administration had sabotaged any agreed program at the 2005 NPT conference.) But as the United States gets back in sync with the commitment to universal nuclear abolition contained in the NPT, it is important that countries already pledged to nonproliferation as parties to the NPT not renege and create new nuclear arsenals. That's been the danger with Iran, and that's why even countries like Russia and China, which are very sensitive to what they view as U.S. hegemonic designs, have joined in a united P5 front to prevent Iran--an NPT party--from creating a secret weapons program. The NPT regime must be strengthened, not allowed to crumble due to defections. You are certainly right about hypocrisy on the part of nuclear-armed states that declaim loudly and even threateningly about Iran when they stay outside the NPT themselves. And yes, you are right that suitable reform of the U.N. Security Council would be desirable.
Iver Peterson's experience as a senior staffer at the Jordan International Police Training Center near Amman is an invaluable reminder of the importance of good police training. And police training is almost always a crucial piece of the "rule of law" side of United Nations peace operations. We do not doubt that the Jordan training center's efforts are producing higher quality policing in Iraq than Iraqis ever saw under the Baath's mukhabarat-infested police. However, the U.S. training program the State Department is curtailing is inside Iraq, U.S.-owned, and as reported by the NY Times of dubious value. (The Times account conveys a number of real howlers of U.S. blinkers.) Certainly Iraqi officials' caustic comments about the program make clear that they haven't felt invested in it. As with so much else inside Iraq, a "made-in-USA" label these days inspires buyer resistance, not embrace.
Well, Sally, hope can fade fast. One would have thought the increasingly beleaguered government in Damascus would have recognized the obvious: that its last remaining allies are deeply invested in Kofi Annan's plan for a solution. A deeply frustrated Annan Tuesday told the Security Council that "it is essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the Government forces"--adding, in notably strong diplo-speak, "I would be grateful if a united Council could register its deep concern at the state of the implementation of the Syrian Government's immediate obligations." He is clearly telling Russia and China the ball is in their court.
Thank you for your comment! The administration's current plan, ABSENT A NEGOTIATED ALL-AFGHAN SETTLEMENT, is for withdrawal of the "surge" reinforcements by this fall (the end of this year's fighting season), an accelerating draw-down through next year and a pullback from combat operations, and by the end of 2014 a residual force (mostly special operations) to foil Al Qaeda terrorism and back up the Afghan government forces in an emergency--fingers crossed on whether that will work. A precipitous withdrawal could leave the country in a much more desperate civil war with the veneer of a semi-functional national government stripped away, and a reversion to the chaotic warfare that followed the mujaheddin ouster of Soviet-allied Najibullah 20 years ago. On the cultural recidivism, you would think that the military would have drilled into the heads of every soldier sent to Afghanistan, no matter how unwillingly, that the slightest appearance of disrespect to Afghans' religion and culture incites killings of our own troops and fuels Taliban recruitment. Heads have to roll (figuratively speaking) for the current two incidents lest many more heads roll (literally) from fanatics' attacks touted as "reprisals".
I appreciate the thoughtful comments. Mohammed Nafees seeks an international consensus on what drives people across parts of the Muslim world to "militancy," and there has been a good deal of research into what those drivers might be. (Sally McMillan is right to note that--despite resolute efforts by opinion-molders here to suppress any talk of a connection--it is remarkable how ordinary Muslim believers from Pakistan to Morocco volunteer the suffering of the Palestinians as a principal concern, a reality that underscores the urgency of an equitable two-state peace settlement that realizes permanently the partition of Palestine promised internationally agreed as far back as 1947.) The so-called "Arab spring" has allowed fervent Islam to find political space where it was rigorously excluded, and the world watches with bated breath to see if these new regimes will respect democracy and minority rights. There is clearly an international consensus, however, that "militancy" expressed in terrorist violence, Al Qaeda style, must be confronted and suppressed. Whether Mussolini's squadristi or Hitler's brownshirts or Al Qaeda's suicide killers, terrorist violence to destabilize societies and open the door to their takeover by extremists does not lead to a more just or peaceful world. That is not a myth.
Herb Behrstock rightly suggests that operability of the "R2P" principle is now straitjacketed by suspicions fanned by the Libya events. Perhaps, as the article suggested, the International Criminal Court can introduce a different kind of dynamic and deterrent. Of course, Clinton's signature on the Rome Statute did not make the United States a "party" to the ICC, since ratification would have required 67 senators' votes of consent. But there is an unmistakable lowering of the hysteria in Neanderthal circles that crusty conservatives like Senator Jesse Helms were fanning a dozen years ago ("slay this monster!")--in part because the Court's performance belies those hysterical predictions. "Evolutionary options toward accountability" indeed, as John Burton writes.
Dick Blakney reminds us of a mega-issue -- the REAL challenge of this century, on which the clock is ticking -- on which Huntsman is unique in the current field of would-be challengers to Barack Obama. Sally McMillan hopes for a challenger to Obama from the far left of the political spectrum, apparently viewing him as too cautious, compromising, or conservative to be worth her vote. Perhaps that was the centimeter along the American political spectrum that Ralph Nader has occupied? And I thank Iver Peterson for his perspicacious comment on the consequences of militarily attacking Iran, another war that is easy to start and in the long term very hard to stop. It may be true that sanctions will not force the current decision-makers in Iran to abandon their preparations -- but the individuals atop any regime eventually change, and a successor leadership (due in two years) that's not locked into the truculence of the current clique should find attractive a broader deal that allows them to deliver economic gains to deepen its popularity at home.
Ed Marks offers one workable diplomatic roundabout (I had advanced another three months ago, when the coming train wreck was clearly on the horizon: Either one requires overriding the current Israeli governing majority, which does not accept the Ehud Olmert-Tzipi Livni negotiating terms. And that brings us to Iver Peterson's trenchant observation that "Obama can't keep saying his hands are tied - he's the President!" I'm not so sure, though, that Bill Clinton should be considered a model of courage to "defy the right wing and defend continued emergency contributions" to the UN. He never really went out on a limb for the United Nations, and ironically it was George W. Bush that led the US back into UNESCO after Clinton failed to do so for eight years.
Post-script: The General Assembly has now re-scheduled the voting on Security Council members to Friday, October 21.
Post-script: The General Assembly has now re-scheduled the voting on Security Council members to Friday, October 21.
Thanks, ARK, for your comment. Leo Brincat, a member of parliament in Malta -- the flyspeck European island state even closer to Libya than Italy -- has shared with me his observation (published Sunday,, that "The very same people, who predicted that it would all be over within days, as was the case of the overthrow of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, are now feeling a new sense of frustration because things are taking too long and costing too much." Mars is a fickle god, who often tricks those who put their faith in him. ARK raises the question of Iranian muscle-flexing in anticipation of the US departure from Iraq, especially as it might affect Kurdish aspirations for an independent state. But the US and European "weakness" he laments is manifest in each day's headline of economic news, and when we can't do what it takes to recover from the 2007-08 meltdown, it really does constrain what we can do on other ambitious nation-shaping projects of that decade.
Toggle Commented Aug 9, 2011 on Libya Flickers on the Radar Screen at Taking Note
I appreciate Sally McMillan's endorsement of Obama's calibrated intervention to save the sputtering Libyan insurrection. I think, though, that she should not be too dismissive of the concerns about assertions of a president's war-making power. If the president cannot get congressional agreement for an air war, should he feel entitled to go ahead and launch it anyway? The president of the United States will not always be as smart, nuanced, and internationalist as Barack Obama. Similarly, Tom Forstenzer's knack for knowing tyranny, as well as pornography, when he sees it should be tempered by recent experience of another president's resolute focus on tyranny and its surgical removal. Perhaps he can interpret for us President Sarkozy's militancy on removing Colonel Qaddafi (a contrast to Prime Minister Berlusconi's fast-footed tarantella, to which he alludes). Overall, though, his call to stop talking and start acting in international partnership is consistent with the argument I had made.
Toggle Commented Mar 31, 2011 on Obama's Tale of Two Cities at Taking Note
Thanks for the thoughtful comments. The news has just broken of President Mubarak’s “transfer of his authority” -- in one account to a senior military council, in another to his consigliere and hand-picked vice-president. So much for having to act within the constitution! A military council would perhap represents the “coup” that Omar Suleiman was suggesting in yesterday’s news reports. The question is whether a military council would be just another feint to maintain the authoritarian security state in the name of stability--frustrating the "slow progress" that contributor Iver Peterson endorses above--or whether the military leaders instead move quickly to replace the Mubarak loyalists on the constitutional reform working groups with reformers. By transferring powers without actually resigning, might Mubarak prevent a presidential vacancy that reformers could fill? Still too early for any of us to tell. I appreciate Iver Peterson's sage counsel about slow progress being better than the risks of going too quickly. I wonder how that might have applied in the Czechoslovak case 21 years ago....
Toggle Commented Feb 10, 2011 on Time to stop speaking in tongues at Taking Note
Politically, of course, Obama HAD to focus on domestic policy--that's the set of issues on which the electorate judges a president's performance. (Note that Afghanistan did not figure as an issue in any Senate or House campaign!) And some will argue that conservative presidents tend to focus their annual address on "national security" and foreign policy because they have a shorter, perhaps more complacent agenda regarding domestic challenges. Many of us were struck, as Ms. McMillan and Mr. Shoeb are, by the President's failure to mention the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, something that was one of his top foreign policy priorities (as I noted in my post here last week). Let's face it, for all his efforts, he has come up empty-handed. Why call attention to failure, when the prospects for salvaging a success seem so bleak? Obama conspicuously did not mention it in his State of the Union address last year either. Leave it to George Bush to have most recently addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his last State of the Union speech in January 2008. "The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side-by-side in peace," President Bush declared then. "America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year." Alas, another near-miss.
The 10 Worst are the second half of the article, starting (in alphabetical order) from "Afghan torpor" and ending with "United front for economic recovery fragments." But while some of the "10 Best" may carry seeds of negative results in the future, I think they're rightly listed in the "plus" column. You couldn't possibly say that major progress on cornering malaria and polio has any downside, or "could also be considered [among] the 'Ten Worst'," would you?
Toggle Commented Dec 28, 2010 on The Best and Worst of 2010: The World at Taking Note
I welcome Maksim Grakis's perspective, and I quite share his opposition to the Bush administration's unprovoked invasion of Iraq. I would point out, however, that the 2003 attack was NOT "the only war of aggression since the Second World War." As my piece pointed out, it was Iraq itself that had invaded and announced annexation of a neighboring U.N. member state in 1990: "Saddam Hussein's Iraq (and the world reaction to it) is the exception that proves the rule."
Toggle Commented Aug 25, 2010 on Ain't gonna make war no more at Taking Note
Thank you for your message. I will be out of The Century Foundations offices until 3 August. I expect, however, to be checking e-mails intermittently during this period, and will likely, inshallah, be back to you much sooner. Jeffrey Laurenti Senior Fellow and Director, Foreign Policy Programs The Century Foundation 41 East 70th Street New York, New York 10021 USA Tel.: +1 (212) 535-4441 ext. 339 or (direct) (212) 452-7739 Fax: +1 (212) 535-9803 E-mail: Web:
Toggle Commented Jul 16, 2010 on Tobin tax time at Taking Note
I think, in response to Elwin's observation, that on nuclear rollback the political reasons for "non-response" (I don't think racial ones are in play on this issue)lie, as I argued above, in a cynical capital and an indifferent press. They don't acknowledge--as the so-called "Four Horsemen" of a cold-war apocalypse, the quadrumvirate of Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, Bill Perry, and George Shultz, have repeatedly affirmed--that a two-tiered nuclear order, in which some countries have nuclear weapons while others cannot, is simply unsustainable. Some in the second category will always want to join the first. Sally McMillan underestimates the change that Barack Obama has already delivered, ESPECIALLY on nuclear weapons. Yes, I admit that I myself was arguing that his own appointees are reluctant spear-carriers for his goal -- but Obama seems to have an uncanny sense for political timing, and knows that too ambitious a timeline can trigger a political insurrection by the nuclear lobby. His secretary of defense has certainly not been persuaded by the Four Horsemen to back abolition, but Gates does buy into Obama's phase-in approach, and Gates's backing is enormously important to achieving Capitol Hill buy-in, especially among right-of-center Republicans.
Actually, to Sally McMillan's point, I think the United States was correct in deflecting a knee-jerk Security Council condemnation of Israel based on the first day's reports. (Isn't that how the Congress got stampeded into approving the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing a U.S. war in Vietnam?) But it did join in a unanimous coupling of a call for an "impartial" investigation with a condemnation of "the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza." As for Nabil Shoeb's point, I think the nationalist Right in Israel (the faction that Sally says seeks to swallow up "the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean") shares the same view as the nationalist Right in the United States that framed the Bush administration debate and its national security strategy. Peter Beinart notes the Israeli hardliners' alienation of younger Jewish Americans from Israel (, and today the New York Times quotes the Peres Center for Peace's Ron Pundak--who will be speaking at The Century Foundation on June 14--as observing larger throngs of Israeli protestors against the reckless raid. Perhaps the blowback from ready reliance on use of force will shake the wax out of the political establishment's ears.
The pressure on the 3 nuclear holdouts has pretty much come from non-nuclear states. The fact that Secretary Clinton's address to the NPT conference VOLUNTEERED that the U.S. intended to press for a nuclear-free Middle East--followed up by a joint statement of the Security Council's "P-5" reiterating that commitment--seems, however, a quite significant break from past "double standards" in that region. Perhaps the Obama administration sees steps in this direction as the sealant to a verifiable pact keeping Iran non-nuclear. In any event, it's getting attention in Israel, as a provocative May 7 article in Haaretz newspaper ( by Reuven Pedatzur, and the paper's own editorial ( underscore. BTW, Pedatzur makes lively contributions in a TCF-sponsored conference on these issues summarized here: or (for transcript)
Ah, but Africa is still not absent from our review! The AIDS and child mortality landmark (under "Best") is in particular measure--as noted there--a "sub-Saharan Africa" gain, and if you count Egypt as African it's the big exemplar of the global "wandering antiquities" development. Sadly, on the "Worst" side, the unraveling of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan surely qualifies among the major new developments of the year that may reverberate well into the future..
Toggle Commented Dec 31, 2009 on The Best and Worst of 2009: the World at Taking Note
Thanks to Andi for taking time to post concurrence in the argument made in yesterday's reflection. Difficult as it is in national legislative bodies to forge broad agreement on transformative measures before the crisis is upon us, it is exponentially more difficult to do so globally, where the threshold for agreement is much higher than the 60% now required in the US Senate. Thanks too to "Thinker" for sharing his skepticism about the science that has led most of the world's atmospheric science community to sound the alarm over the past two decades. ("I don't believe 'climate change' has anything to do with the amount of [carbon dioxide] in our atmosphere.") Former senator Edmund Muskie told me, in the run-up to the 1992 Rio "earth summit," that even at that relatively early decision point in the developing debate on this issue, he felt a suffocating sense of déjà vu: For his first two decades in the Senate, the tobacco industry had zealously propagated the same kinds of "scientific" doubts about the health effects of smoking that the fossil-fuels industry was now sowing about the climatic effects of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. How many hundreds of thousands of Americans were sent to an early death, he said, because the political class was befuddled by junk science. "Deep Throat" offered sound advice for weighing such competing claims: Follow the money. Which side of the debate has billions of dollars at stake in misleading the public and elected officials about the effects of carbon emissions -- university researchers and weather scientists, or coal and oil companies?
Thanks to all who read these quick reflections and thought to comment. Alma Morrison's concern that "only the critics of his approach speak out and deride this decision of the Nobel committee" is well taken. Most striking is the difference in the reactions to the Nobel award inside the United States and abroad. Even liberal-leaning commentators feel obliged to express doubt, as Sally McMillan reports, as to "what he has done to deserve this." Yet abroad there is no such carping. The derision expressed by the U.S.-based punditocracy toward Obama's award shows how clueless American security elites are about just how dangerous Washington's rogue-elephant truculence has seemed to people outside our borders. World publics in fact saw a militarized and confrontational United States as the biggest threat to maintenance of a peaceful world order. This is what led to astounding survey results in country after country showing people viewed the United States as a bigger threat to their own countries' security than Iran or North Korea or Russia, and showing more fear of George Bush than of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il, or Vladimir Putin. American conservatives habitually laugh these data off as irrelevant, or as telling us more about foreigners' distorted perceptions and their supposed hatred of Americans' freedom than they tell about U.S. policy. But, as Larry Finkelstein observes above, America's choice of direction -- between law-based "cooperation for peace" or unilateral "our way or the highway" -- has far more impact on a sustainable international order than any of the small regional "rogues." The drive to lock in unilateral U.S. strategic dominance has been profoundly destabilizing to that global safety net of principles, law, and institutions. Obama's unquestioned change in direction is, therefore, in and of itself a Nobel-scale achievement for peace.
Toggle Commented Oct 10, 2009 on Nobel Bookends at Taking Note
John Krejci reflects a common-sense view of the world that fellow Nebraskan Chuck Hagel had ably articulated in the U.S. Senate -- one that is reality-based, as opposed to the fantasist view that pervaded the conservative network in the past administration ("we're an empire now, we make our own reality"). Alex G. isn't clear about the dictators he imagines that America is now "coddling." Certainly our staunchest allies--including Britain, France, Germany, and Japan, the largest contributors to global order and prosperity--are positively thrilled by Obama's change in direction, and their public tributes to him at the United Nations this week have been little short of rapturous. The same is true of democratic leaders from Latin America to Africa to Asia. Which staunch allies might be, in Alex G's phrase, "pissed off"? Besides the Likud coalition in Israel, it's hard to think of any. Alex G. will be reassured to know that the leading surviving torch-bearer of John F. Kennedy's presidency, Ted Sorensen, not only still exists, but vigorously applauds President Obama. The same commitment to democracy, international law, peace, and justice that animated Kennedy administration foreign policy (and averted a nuclear war over Cuba) has returned to the helm of American policy today.
Big Ben may be tolling the end of Russian importance here a bit prematurely. Though he's certainly right that China's gravitational pull on the Mongolian economy is by far the strongest, President Medvedev was in Ulaanbaatar signing an accord with Mongolia's president granting Russia the concession on mining uranium for its nuclear-power industry at the very moment he was hitting the "post" button on his comment . (See The Mongolians also hope for Korean and Japanese economic engagement, leavening a bit their economic dependence on the big brother to the south. Unlike some of the Chinese nationalists holed up in Taipei, whose maps still show Mongolia as part of the greater republic of China (provisionally under Mongol administration), Beijing does--as Big Ben notes--scrupulously recognize and respect Mongolia's political independence.
Toggle Commented Aug 31, 2009 on Squeezing between elephants at Taking Note