Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, 1913 - 2006 

Former President Gerald Ford died yesterday.

I'm sure that there will be much discussion of Ford's legacy as the only non-elected President in US history, following the resignation of Nixon, and the implications of his pardon of Nixon, perhaps the defining moment of his presidency. As he was only in office briefly, serving out the remainder of Nixon's second term, Ford is not generally credited with many major foreign policy initiatives or successes. He inherited Nixon's agenda, team, and issues, but spent much of his presidency focused on domestic and economic issues. Nevertheless, Ford did leave at least three important though probably under-appreciated legacies in the realm of US Foreign Policy.

First, many of the familiar senior figures of today's foreign policy debate got their start in the Ford administration. It was under Ford that a young Dick Cheney became the President's Chief of Staff and Don Rumsfeld became the youngest Secretary of Defense. Brent Scowcroft was National Security adviser and George Bush was director of the CIA. The experience of these men, and many others from that time, continues to have a profound impact in shaping US Foreign Policy. One need look no farther than the strong alliance between Rumsfeld's Pentagon and Cheney's office of the Vice President in shaping Iraq policy, an alliance forged in the Ford Administration.

Second, Ford really began the era of intelligence oversight by issuing Executive Order 11905. The order is perhaps most famous for its ban on assassination by US government agencies. Since their founding in the early years of the Cold War, the US intelligence agencies, notably the CIA and NSA, gave themselves a wide mandated to fight the Cold War. Some of this activity became rather questionable, and included spying on US citizens in violation of US law. However, until the mid-70's, there was no Congressional oversight of the Intelligence Community. Following high-profile investigations by Congress, several laws were passed establishing the legal framework for Intelligence oversight that we have today. Ford's executive order was the first in a series of steps to regulate what sort of spying the US can and cannot do. The order banning assassination remains in effect to this day, having stood the test of time across administrations of varied political leanings. The Global War on Terror has renewed the debate over this ban, yet it remains in force. Now, the US government still targets individuals, such as Saddam Hussein on the first day of the 2003 Iraq war, or various Al Queda terrorists. But, because of Ford's order, these efforts must pass through a complicated legal framework and justification as legitimate military targets, not assassinations. One can debate the point of this, but the fact that that debate is there at all is part of Ford's legacy.

Finally, Ford signed the Helsinki Final Acts in 1975. The Helsinki accord was formally about the end of World War II in Europe, recognizing and fixing the borders of European states, in particular the changes made by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. However, one "basket" of the accords contained key provisions about the importance of Human Rights, and when the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites signed the accords, they committed themselves, formally, for the first time, to upholding basic human rights. At the time, this was not seen as a major issue, but it would perhaps be the longest lasting legacy of the Accords. This moment marked a the entry point of Human Rights as a key issue in US foreign policy and helped end the Cold War. While subsequent Presidents, notably Carter and Reagan, would put Human Rights at the forefront of US foreign policy, Ford's signing and ratification of the Helsinki Accords made it possible for them to do so in a meaningful way. Having the USSR as a signatory to the document gave them a touchstone against which to measure Soviet treatment of their own people. Even more importantly, the Accords led to the foundation of many NGO's dedicated to monitor their implementation. In the West, the best known is Human Rights Watch (originally founded as Helsinki Watch, to "watch" the signatories adherence to the accords). In the Soviet Bloc, groups such as Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia were formed, inspired by the Helsinki Accords. These groups ability to hold their governments accountable for human rights abuses by highlighting the standards to which the governments had agreed in Helsinki was one of the key beginnings of the end of the Cold War. The modern discourse of Human Rights, government policies to uphold human rights, and international network of NGO's who monitor human rights issues owes much of its existence to the Helsinki process, a process that Gerald Ford was willing to stand up for, sign, and incorporate into US foreign policy.

Its certainly not a Truman or Reagan, Kennedy or even Eisenhower-esque legancy, to be sure, but as much of the discussion of Ford's life and Presidency will most certainly focus on Nixon, its important to remember a few of the important things he did accomplish in his brief time as President.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Iraq Legacy

Where to start? About 2 years ago, Prof. Patrick Jackson and I did an event with the campus Debate Club, where he and I each teamed up with a student and debated "US Foreign Policy: Going to Hell in a Hand Basket." It was great fun. I was on the side of hell in a hand basket (and won), though it helped to have reality on my side. Reality is back in force, and its not good for the Bush Administration and its not is it good for US foreign policy.

The Washington Post has a solid overview in today's paper.
On three key flash points -- North Korea, Iran and Sudan -- the Bush administration confronts the possibility that its current diplomatic approaches have reached the end of their effectiveness, forcing it to consider potentially riskier "Plan B" alternatives, administration officials and outside experts said.

Six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs ended in failure yesterday, suggesting the format could be scrapped after more than three years of inconclusive results. Today, after months of negotiations, the U.N. Security Council may finally approve a relatively weak resolution sanctioning Iran for its pursuit of nuclear power, freeing the administration to try a more unilateral approach to punishing Tehran.

And Sudan faces a U.S.-imposed deadline of Dec. 31 to comply with demands that it allow more peacekeeping forces in the troubled region of Darfur -- or else U.S. officials might move toward such options as imposing a no-fly zone over Darfur.

Now, on the one hand, these breakdowns aren't exclusively the Administrations' "fault." The North Korea talks broke down after the North Korean delegation came with a limited brief--the removal of financial sanctions against Banco Delta Asia in Macao that have shut down a significant amount of the DPRK's alleged illegal international financial activities. It shows that the Administration finally found a negotiating lever that has the North's attention. But, it also shows how stagnant the talks are, if this is the only item of conversation. The UNSC sanctions did pass, a weaker resolution than the US originally sought, does represent a moment of agreement among the P-5. The question is, of course, what next-- the ball is in Iran's court, yet Iran can honestly doubt if the resolution has any teeth. The US and UN are being somewhat aggressive on Darfur, but the Sudanese government can still stall to its heart's content.

Indeed, individually, you can explain away any one of the issues without too much spin. Its easy to fall into the notion that the US and the UN are dealing with some really "rogue" regimes, and its to be expected that they will be uncooperative. But, to do so misses the larger and more significant point. These are not individual failures, they are linked, and reflect a serious failing in US foreign policy over the past 4 years.

Ivo Daalder's take
"Including Iraq, they have four real crises," he said. "But they have less leverage and less capability and less credibility to deal with any in a diplomatic way."

Ahhh, Iraq. The war we're not winning, yet not losing. Its the 18 million ton elephant in the room. It reveals the extended price of Iraq--beyond the blood and treasure expended there, beyond the damage to US policy in the Middle East--it has paralyzed the US Government elsewhere in the world, damaging the US's ability to credibly conduct diplomacy across the globe.
The shadow of the Iraq war hangs over all these issues, distracting the attention of top U.S. officials and limiting the leverage of the United States. "One of the challenges we face is that because Iraq is there, there is not a lot of oxygen in the room to think creatively about any of these problems," said Derek Chollet, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Iran can rightly ask--why play ball on the nuclear issue, what are you really able to do to us? The US doesn't have enough troops to keep its current levels in Iraq and lets not forget Afghanistan. The Baker-Hamilton commission recommended talking to Iran about helping out with Iraq, a plan Rice quickly shot down. Why wouldn't Iran think it has the upper hand?

The cost of the debacle in Iraq is now rearing its ugly head. It dominated all discussion in US policy circles--domestic, military, economic, foreign. The financial cost prevents investment in other areas. The military cost has left the the US in a precarious position to respond to a myriad of other global threats. While it has always been the case that the US military can't be everywhere at once, its overstretch in Iraq is so well known that threats now lack credibility elsewhere in the world. And, diplomatically, the US has burned so many bridges over Iraq, its hard to reconstruct those diplomatic ties to deal with other pressing problems. The benefits of unilateral action are its swiftness and decisiveness. The down side is that you weaken the institutions and alliances you need to deal with other problems down the road.

Its becoming a systemic failure, as the hegemon is losing its ability to manage the system it created, and worse, its losing its credibility as the provider of security and stability within the system. It creates a window of opportunity for states to get away with things that might have been unthinkable crossing of diplomatic red-lines a decade ago-- case in point, North Korea. In 1994, building a nuke was grounds for war on the Peninsula, Clinton was listening to the war plan from the Joint Chiefs when Jimmy Carter called the White House to announce the deal he reached. Today, that is an empty threat, and no deal is in sight.

Alone, each crisis is a significant problem. But they are not isolated incidents. Linked by US involvement in Iraq, examined globally, this reveals a much more disturbing trend, and the wider and more profound cost of the war in Iraq. Its a foreign policy problem of the first order.

Filed as:

Monday, December 18, 2006

6-Party Talks, Part Deux

The Six Party Talks are on again. For any of you who have taken one of my World Politics classes in which we did the 6 party talks simulation, you will find this very, very familiar.

The NYT reports:
Each side appears to be insisting that the other give ground first. At the opening of the talks, the United States offered to normalize diplomatic relations with North Korea, but only after the Pyongyang regime abandons its nuclear program once and for all, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, the North’s chief negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, its vice foreign minister, said on Saturday that North Korea would refuse to halt its nuclear program until the United States abandoned its “hostile” policy toward his country and lifted financial restrictions imposed last year, according to a report today in The China Daily, a state-run newspaper.

It seems the talks opened with a familiar tone, the Post reports:
But North Korea's opening speech at the talks took a "department store approach," presenting "an exhaustive list of all its demands" and demanding that Washington end a "hostile policy" before Pyongyang reins in its nuclear arsenal, a South Korean official told reporters.

It sounds familiar. The DPRK wants the US to end sanctions, particularly the financial sanctions that cut down on North Korea's counterfeiting activities, and extend full diplomatic recognition before anything happens. The US wants the North to give up its nukes before anything happens. Its the same problem, with the same solution-- a trade implemented sequentially over time. In essence, that's the solution that we always get in class.

But, as everyone points out in the reaction papers and final exam question, its one thing to do it in class. Its quite another do to it in real life, when there are real nuclear weapons involved, and when those compromises raise fundamental questions about the legitimacy of your government's identity and purpose.

OR, as Linda Richman might say: The Six Party Talks-- neither talks nor six parties. Discuss.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

At least John Stewart is asking the right question about Iraq.

Check out how Fareed Zakaria gives a very diplomatic "Yes" in response.

Then consider this: The Pentagon is pondering three basic strategies for Iraq-- Go Big, Go Long, or Go Home

If we try to go home, the Saudis are now saying that they might back the Sunnis in the follow-on civil war to prevent a hostile, Iran-friendly Shiite state on their border.

If we try to go big, according to the Washington Post, we just don't have the troop strength to increase boots on the ground in any meaningful way. "According to Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, the Army and Marine Corps today cannot sustain even a modest increase of 20,000 troops in Iraq."

And, if we go long, we continue to fight a war that has lost nearly all public support. Moreover, we learn in today's Post:
Pentagon chiefs think that there is no purely military solution for Iraq and that, without major progress on the political and economic fronts, the U.S. intervention is simply buying time, the sources said.

So, all and all, I give Fareed rather good marks in this interview.

And, because I don't want you to miss the second half...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dueling Diplomats, Dueling Theories

Today, the NYT has a nice bit of news analysis of the Iraq Study Group Report and how it pits the world-view of current SecState Rice with former SecState and ISG head Baker.

The contrast is striking:
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III... has been talking on television, to Congress and to Iraqis and foreign diplomats about how he would conduct American foreign policy differently. Very differently....

[H]e then proceeded to make a passionate argument for a course of action he believed Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state, should be pursuing — while carefully never mentioning Ms. Rice by name....

Meanwhile, Ms. Rice remained publicly silent, sitting across town in the office that Mr. Baker gave up 14 years ago. She has yet to say anything about the public tutorial being conducted by the man who first knew her when she was a mid-level Soviet expert on the National Security Council. She has not responded to Mr. Baker’s argument, delivered in a tone that drips with isn’t-this-obvious, that America has to be willing to talk to its adversaries (a premise Ms. Rice has questioned if the conditions are not right), or his dismissal of the administration’s early argument that the way to peace in the Middle East was through quick, decisive victory in Baghdad.....

Ms. Rice makes no apology for the premium she has placed on promoting democracy in the Middle East, even though that is an idea that Mr. Baker and his commission conspicuously ignored in spelling out their recommendations. “I don’t think that the road to democracy in Iraq is at all utopian,” she said in April.

It is plenty utopian to Mr. Baker, who has made clear his view that the quest is entirely ill-suited to the realities of striking a political deal that may keep Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other, and that may extract American forces from Iraq.

Mr. Baker said nothing on Thursday about looking for Jeffersonian democrats in Iraq; he would be happy with few good “Iraqi nationalists” who can keep the country from splintering apart....

“They start from completely different places,” said Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator who worked for Mr. Baker years ago and left the State Department early in the Bush administration. “Baker approaches everything with a negotiator’s mindset. That doesn’t mean every negotiation leads to a deal, but you engage your adversaries and use your leverage to change their behavior. This administration has never had a negotiator’s mind-set. It divides the world into friends and foes, and the foes are incorrigible and not redeemable. There has been more of an instinct toward regime change than to changing regime behavior.”

Ross is right, they are coming from completely different places. Rice is articulating a policy premised on classic liberalism, very much in line with the tradition established by Woodrow Wilson. Baker is coming from a classic realist position, following in the line of someone like Kissinger or Bismark. Rice's policies make no sense without an appreciation of the transformative power of democracy and moral sense of rightness to bring it about within liberal idealism. Baker's policies make no sense outside of the pragmatic, balancing, stability-seeking, state-centric notions of classical realism.

For all you fans of the the IR theory classic, this liberal utopian tradition is exactly what E.H. Carr was cautioning against in the Twenty Years Crisis.

Who says IR theory can't be useful and fun?

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