Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hegemonic Decline? 

A must-read for the Hegemony class in today's New York Times magazine. Parag Khanna writes that the unipolar moment is over and a new tri-polar order is emerging, with Europe, China, and the US negotiating the future of world politics.

From a hegemony perspective, this is a must read and Khanna's analysis of the emerging work order is very insightful, and he has some important recommendations on how USFP can adapt to this new situation. Dan Nexon, over at The Duck, raises some good points to critique the article, also worth reading.

I'm guessing this will make an appearance again later in the semester...


Running for President.... of the world? 

Saturday's NYT had a fascinating story about ongoing Presidential election from a global perspective. Quite possibly unlike any election anywhere, ever, the whole world is watching. I don't mean watching, as in interested in the outcome. I mean watching as in participating, following every debate, poll, and story arc.
To look at the reams of coverage in newspapers outside the United States or to follow the hours of television news broadcasts, you might conclude that foreigners had a vote in selecting an American presidential candidate — or, at least, deserved one, so great is America’s influence on their lives.

From Berlin to London to Jakarta, the destinies of Democratic and Republican contenders in Iowa or New Hampshire, or Nevada or South Carolina, have become news in a way that most political commentators cannot recall. It is as if outsiders are pining for change in America as much as some American presidential candidates are promising it.

The personalities of the Democratic contest in particular — the potential harbinger of America’s first African-American or female president — have fascinated outsiders as much as, if not more than, the candidates’ policies on Iraq, immigration or global finances.

And there is a palpable sense that, while democratic systems seem clunky and uninspiring to voters in many parts of the Western world, America offers a potential model for reinvigoration.
They then do a round-the world report of how folks view this election. An election like no other.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The New Space Race 

As Barry Posen argues, American Hegemony is based on military command of the commons: the ability of the superior US military capability to control the global common areas of airspace, the high seas, and outer space.

This week's Economist has an excellent discussion of the importance of space-based assets to American military superiority:
The Combined Air Operations Centre's exact location in “southwest Asia” cannot be disclosed. But from here commanders supervise tens of thousands of sorties a year. Through aircraft surveillance pods they get a god's eye view of operations that range from old-fashioned strafing to the targeted killing of insurgent leaders with bombs guided by global positioning system (GPS) satellites, and emergency air drops to isolated soldiers using parachutes that steer themselves automatically to the chosen spot.

If Napoleon's armies marched on their stomachs, American ones march on bandwidth. Smaller Western allies struggle to keep up.
(implying that lesser developed potential rivals--Iran, North Korea, for instance--are left in the dust...)
[T]he armed services' hunger for electronic data means that four-fifths of America's military data is transmitted through commercial satellites. A single Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft flying over Afghanistan can eat up several times more satellite bandwidth than was used for the whole of the 1991 war against Iraq.
In a nutshell, the US relies on space-based assets as the backbone for all of its technologically dominant military technology.

China, starting with its 2007 A-Sat test, is making an overt play to challenge the US military by placing these space-based assets at risk. Even by creating more space-junk, they put valuable satellites at risk of collision with a deadly piece of debris. Now, a poorly developed challenger to US influence has no hope of countering the massive military advantage afforded by space dominance. But a so-called "near peer" competitor (ie China, Russia) could. By blinding or even taking out US satellites, they could drastically reduce the US military's ability to exercise its dominance in other areas of the global commons.

While it will be a long time before any other nation can match what the US has produced and launched into space, its a current reality that several nations could level the playing field significantly by taking out America's space based assets.

The key question: How likely is such an action, and how much would it really matter?

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Syria covers up 

The saga continues…

Back in October, Israeli jets bombed a mystery site in Syria. While it was clearly a major operation, the silence by all parties was remarkable, and heightened the mystery. Some claimed it was a terrorist arms shipment, some claimed it was a nuclear site, and others thought it was a practice-run / signal for Iran. But, with everyone remaining silent, the story slowly faded away.

The NYT is reporting that recently released satellite photos show that Syria is rebuilding a structure on the suspect site.
The puzzling site in Syria that Israeli jets bombed in September became more curious Friday with the release of a satellite photograph showing new construction there that resembles the site’s former main building.

Israel’s air attack was directed against what Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged to be a partly constructed nuclear reactor. The Syrians vigorously denied the atomic claim.

Before the attack, satellite imagery showed a tall, square building there measuring about 150 feet on a side.

After the attack, the Syrians wiped the area clean, with some analysis calling the speed of the cleanup a tacit admission of guilt. The barren site is on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, 90 miles north of the Iraqi border.

The image released Friday came from a private company, DigitalGlobe, in Longmont, Colo. It shows a tall, square building under construction that appears to closely resemble the original structure, with the exception that the roof is vaulted instead of flat. The photo was taken from space on Wednesday.
Several clues emerge here. First, the NYT seems rather confident in asserting the US / Israeli analysis that it was a nuclear site. This was hotly contested back in October, but is taken for granted here.

Second, the article goes on to report that the IAEA asked to inspect the sight, again indicating that there was some nuclear suspicion to clear up. Syria refused, and the rebuilding will make it more difficult to ever figure out what was there.

My question is—what’s the back story? An airstrike this big, nuclear proliferation in a country that was, once, “next” up on the axis of evil (and borders Iraq), and nothing happens?

Note to self: in 10 years or so, submit a FOIA on this and find out what the heck was going on.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Bhutto and Democracy in Pakistan 

I was listening to the International Hour of the Diane Rehm Show Weekly News Round-Up on podcast while jogging yesterday, and I heard David Ignatius (as noted previously, a friend of Bhutto's from their Harvard days...) make an interesting point.

He said that we in the US tended to see Bhutto as the future of democracy in Pakistan in large part because she seemed like one of us. Educated at Harvard, fully conversant in Western culture, history, and politics, darling of the media and political establishment, she charmed nearly everyone in Washington she met. But, in practice, she was not all that democratic. She was yet another example of dynasty politics, coming from a great feudal family of Pakistan. She had named herself chairperson of the PPP for life, and was dogged by corruption scandals from both her terms as PM.

His remarks reminded me of the continuing importance of Ido Oren's critique of the Democratic Peace theory. Oren concluded that:
The claim that democracies do not fight one another is not about democracies per se; it is better understood as a claim about peace among countries conforming to a subjective ideal that is cast, not surprisingly, in America's self-image. Democracy is "our kind," and the coding rules by which it is defined are but the unconscious representations of current American political values. These values are elastic over time, and their historical change is influenced by America's changing international circumstances. The normative standards embodied in the present definition of democracy were selected by a subtle historical process whereby standards by which America resembled its adversaries have been excluded, while those that maximized the distance between America and its rivals have become privileged. In the process, not only has the perception of friends and adversaries changed, but so has America's own self-perception. Democracy, therefore, is not a determinant as much as a product of America's foreign relations. The reason we appear not to fight "our kind" is not that objective likeness substantially affects war propensity, but rather that we subtly redefine "our kind."
Bhutto was "our kind" in Pakistan.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008


I’ve been pondering the assassination of former (and potentially future) Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto for a few days and have been struggling with what I might say about it. It was this column by Anne Applebaum that provided the hook to crystallize a few thoughts.

If you read the coverage of Bhutto’s death, particularly in the Washington Post, you notice a strong movement to lionize her and her legacy. Applebaum pointed this out (with helpful links) in a column that appeared in both Slate and the Post:
It would also be hard to think of a person in the Islamic world who could possibly have inspired more affectionate and well-informed obituaries. An extraordinarily high percentage of the world's English-speaking pundits appear to have known Bhutto at Harvard, to have encountered her at Oxford, or to have interviewed her, at some length, when in Karachi or Rawalpindi. If one only read the encomiums to her bravery and her zest for politics over the past week, it would have been difficult, without knowing anything else about her, to understand why such a person should have been so hated by so many of her own countrymen.
You don’t have to dig very deep to see what’s going on. Bhutto’s father was very smart to send her to Harvard at 16, where she got the very best Harvard has to offer—connections to the future elite of American society. The NY Times noted:
Ms. Bhutto, the Pakistani opposition leader and two-time prime minister, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi on Thursday as she campaigned for the office a third time, had a more extensive network of powerful friends in the capital’s political and media elite than almost any other foreign leader. Over the years, she scrupulously cultivated those friends, many from her days at Harvard and Oxford. She was rewarded when her connections — at the White House, in Congress and within the foreign policy establishment — helped propel her into power in Pakistan….

Ms. Bhutto… quickly befriended not only [Peter W.] Galbraith but E. J. Dionne and Michael Kinsley, now both columnists for The Post, and Walter Isaacson, the president of the Aspen Institute and a former managing editor of Time….

Ms. Bhutto’s first important trip to Washington was in the spring of 1984, when Mr. Galbraith, then a Democratic staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, acted as her host and tutor….

Her goal in Washington was to persuade conservative Reagan administration officials that they would be better off with her in power. It was not going to be easy: Ms. Bhutto’s father was known for his fiery anti-Western rhetoric, and she had marched against the Vietnam War at Harvard. “What she was up against was her reputation of being this anti-American radical,” Mr. Galbraith said. “So we spent a lot of time talking about what messages she needed to convey.” …

On that same trip, Mr. Galbraith introduced Ms. Bhutto to Mark Siegel, a political operative who had been executive director of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Siegel was taken with Ms. Bhutto and supported her cause. He became a lobbyist for the government of Pakistan when Ms. Bhutto was in power. Most recently he was her collaborator on a book scheduled for publication in 2008.
In short, Bhutto crafted and scrupulously maintained a large and powerful network of friends and supporters in Washington. Applebaum notes the:
…reasons why there might be a division between Western and domestic feelings about certain politicians, particularly when that politician is associated with domestic issues that we either don't know about, don't care about, or don't understand. Bhutto, despite her eloquent and sincere defense of democracy on the pages of the New York Times, was just as well known in Pakistan for the longstanding corruption charges against her and her husband, as well as for encouraging the birth and growth of the Taliban during her years as prime minister: Allegedly, she had hoped to make use of the fanatical group's military success in Afghanistan as a tool in Pakistan's longstanding struggle with India for regional dominance. To many Pakistanis, even those who didn't want to see her murdered, these were not insignificant political errors, but horrendous, unforgivable, disqualifying blunders.

We didn't know about these sides of Bhutto's character, or didn't remember them, or simply didn't think them as significant as her democracy rhetoric…
And yet they are essential to Bhutto’s legacy and would have been important issues had she become prime minister. Her friend, Galbraith, paints these choices in a sympathetic way:
Benazir's two abbreviated terms as prime minister (she was sacked twice) disappointed her countrymen and, I think, herself. In the years before her first election, we spent hours discussing her goals: a real democracy where the army took orders from elected leaders and otherwise stayed in the barracks; peace with India; a halt to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program; government spending on social needs, including girls' education. She never accomplished any of this, but not for lack of trying.

After arriving in Karachi the day after the 1988 elections, we eventually got through the crowds to her newly built house in an upscale suburb. As we talked late into the night, she asked me to draft a detailed proposal for improved relations to be given to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. At 3 in the morning, she copied the proposal into her own hand for me to deliver to Gandhi the next day. At a subsequent summit, the two leaders looked more like newlyweds than the rulers of countries that had fought three wars in the previous half-century. But then the Pakistani military stepped in, making it clear that, elected prime minister or not, she had no say on Kashmir or nuclear weapons -- two crucial elements of any durable peace.

So Benazir well understood that, without bringing Pakistan's military under civilian control, her country would never become a real democracy. That meant depriving the generals of their ability to use the threat of India to justify their outsized claims on the national budget and Pakistan's political agenda. But in order to make peace with India (and to combat growing Islamist extremism after 9/11), she needed the military on her side. This balancing act drove her to contemplate a power-sharing deal with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, over fierce criticism from her own party. She hoped to create a "coalition of moderates" that would enable her to be prime minister in fact and not just in name…
Indeed, as far as the Bush Administration’s handling of Pakistan goes, it wasn’t a bad plan per se—to encourage the development of a secular, pro-US political force outside of Musharraf utilizing the tools of democracy. From the US point of view, its pretty hard to imagine a better alternative than Bhutto. Unfortunately, now we must.


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