Wednesday, November 29, 2006

No Love for Maliki

(and I had a better post written for this, but of course my browser crashed just as it started to get interesting....)

Anyway, Bush is en-route from the NATO Summit in Latvia to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah and Iraqi PM Maliki, and while he is in the air, they canceled the big meeting. The NYT reports:
President Bush’s hastily-planned trip to Jordan to see Mr. Maliki, tacked on to a swing the president made through the Baltics to attend a NATO summit, was intended to address the increasing level of violence in Iraq....

The cancellation of the evening meeting capped a day in which White House aides struggled to put a favorable spin on the classified memorandum, which was written by Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, after an Oct. 30 visit to Iraq to meet one-on-one with Mr. Maliki.

Mr. Hadley wrote in the memo that while the prime minister seems to have good intentions when talking with Americans, “the reality on the streets suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what’s going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient.”

Nothing like the hastily arranged meeting falling apart while you are on your way there.

The offending memo itself is quite interesting, and worth a read. The NYT reprinted a version of it in its entirety here.

As an aside, for those of you in one of my memo writing classes, check out how it gets to the point, how it gives specific recommendations, how it provides options and actions for each one.

For everyone else, its quite an insight into how this administration views Iraq and what few options there are for doing anything about it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

State Department Moves to Study Iran

The NY Times reports today that the State Department is setting up a new office in Dubai to study Iran.
The State Department announced early this year that it would open the office in Dubai and set up an Iran desk in Washington to make contact with Iranians and improve its institutional knowledge of the country at a time when tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions are high.

As all of you astute students of Bureaucratic Politics know, where you stand depends on where you sit. For a long time, there wasn't anyone inside the US Government who "sat" at the Iran desk.
"When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the department last year, Mr. Burns said, it had only two people working on Iran issues."

Now, that's changing.
Today eight are assigned to the Iran desk in Washington and six in the Dubai office, which is within the American consulate.

Key to this whole enterprise is the "institutional knowledge" mentioned above coupled with bureaucratic advocates within the government to advance that institutional knowledge within the policy debates. When it works, this kind of thing can have a powerful impact on US Foreign Policy.
On Friday, R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, said the Dubai office was created in the spirit of the Riga station in Latvia, which became a critical source of knowledge about the Soviet Union at a time when the United States did not have diplomatic relations with Moscow.

“We sent a young kid from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1926 out to Riga station: George Kennan,” he said, referring to the man who would become one of the world’s foremost Soviet experts. “We said: ‘Go and learn Russian. Sit in Riga. You be our window into the Soviet Union.’

“That is what we are saying to these young kids today. ‘You go to Dubai. We can’t be in Iran. You interview every Iranian you can find, get to know them — all the Iranians who come out and do their banking there and do their weekends there — and you tell us how we should understand Iran.’”

So here's hoping that the US Government develops some institutional knowledge and expertise on Iran, allowing for the possibility of more sophisticated policy options toward Iran. Its a small thing, but opening this office and staffing the desk have the real potential to go a long way in changing how the US relates to Iran.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I like Ohio State!!!

To say that I'm excited about the OSU-Michigan game today might be a bit of an understatement. Its only the biggest college football game ever-- 1 vs. 2, conference and national title on the line, in the biggest and best rivalry in college football ever. I'll be in front of my TV, with my OSU Marching Band music cranked up, rooting for my team.

Go Bucks!!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Madness!

Last night's election seems to have been the political wave that some had anticipated. Democrats won big-- taking not just the House and Senate (it seems), but also governorships and other local races nationwide.

Aside from all the post-election analysis that will be coming out in the next few days, 2 points stick out from a foreign policy perspective.

1. Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil once famously said "all politics is local" and that mantra usually applies in Congressional elections, when local issues are very important for local candidates. This election was markedly different. Looking at the exit polls, its rather clear that Iraq was a top if not the top issue for the voters, and they voted to send a message to the President on Iraq. A foreign policy issue, not a domestic issue, dominates a mid-term election. Nearly unheard of in American politics.

As a result, incoming Democratic leadership in Congress can clearly claim a mandate to change direction on Iraq.

2. It didn't take long. Remember last week when Bush said he wanted Rumsfeld to stick around for the remainder of the term? Reports are now out that SecDef Rumsfeld is "resigning", to be replaced by Robert Gates. Gates was director of the CIA back in the first Bush Administration, and is now (or was up until now) president of Texas A&M University. While the outcome of the Senate is still officially in doubt, it seems that the D's will take the 2 seats necessary to get the majority. Bush knows this, and knows that his nominee will face a much more confrontational, if not hostile, confirmation process. This seems to be the beginning of a major shift in Iraq policy. You can bet that the Senators will be asking Gates what his plan is on Iraq and won't confirm him until he comes up with an acceptable answer.

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