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Making Sense of US Arms Sales to Taiwan August 22, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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DefenseNews and a few other sources (including Taiwan’s defense ministry) are reporting that the United States has decided to deny Taiwan’s request for 66 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft. The Obama Administration has denied that this is true, but promised that it would make its final decision on the matter by October 1. According to the reports, the United States will make various upgrades to Taiwan’s older F-16A/B airplanes rather than granting Taiwan its request for the more advanced C/D class. These upgrades include  a substantially more advanced radar system, better air-to-air missile, and fitting the planes to carry laser-guided bombs.

Background

Taiwan wants the F-16C/D class in order replace its 60 Mirage 2000-5 and 60 F-5 Tigers that are due for retirement  in 5-10 years. The 150 F-16A/B which the United States has offered to upgrade instead are aircraft it sold Taiwan in 1992 as part of a $6 billion dollar request. Taiwan also requested from France the 60 retiring Mirage 2000-5 in 1992, and the 60 F-5 Tigers are even older. So rather than receiving 150 new and improved F-16 jets, Taiwan will get its 1990’s F-16s upgraded. While the upgrade is qualitatively substantial, it does nothing to address the numerical problem of the 120 retiring aircraft in Taiwan’s arsenal. Moreover, further qualitative upgrades could have been made to the F-16A/B class, meaning the sale wont equip Taiwan’s F-16A/B with the very best radar system, or the best missiles.

The US sold 150 of the F-16A/B Block 20 aircraft to Taiwan in 1992.

Even more background is necessary to understand the larger implications of this decision. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 is the law that governs US arms sales to Taiwan. It states that it is US policy “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character;” in order to “enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” The United States also promised China in a 1982 communique to gradually scale back arm sales to Taiwan. These two obligations are inherently contradictory, particularly as China’s military power projection grows. That same law requires the executive branch “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion” by China that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system of Taiwan’s people. China’s growing military strength along with American overstretch concerns call into question how sustainable this commitment can be. This trend is most recently exemplified by China’s Varyag aircraft carrier, which this month began its first sea trials.

The Balance of Power

The military balance of power between China and Taiwan is shifting significantly in China’s favor. China remains unwilling to renounce the possible use of military force against Taiwan, and its military posture is threatening. With the largest military in the world, China has substantial quantitative advantages over Taiwan even if only the Chinese forces in the Taiwan Strait area are counted. Whereas Taiwan’s military spending as a percent of GDP has decreased almost every year since 1994, China’s military expenditures have grown rapidly. In 2010, China’s military budget (including weapons research and foreign arms purchases) was $150 billion, while Taiwan’s was only $9.3 billion.

Today, China has a deployed arsenal immediately across the Strait from Taiwan of 1,050-1,150 short-range ballistic missiles and a large quantity of land attack cruise missiles. To counter this Taiwan has the state of the art Patriot missile defense system, which it received from the United States. But a recent report by Pentagon intelligence officials states that Taiwan’s ability to deny China air superiority is increasingly diminishing. The two country’s air forces are now roughly in qualitative parity, whereas China’s have historically been far behind in this regard.

Conclusion

It is clear that Taiwan would have great difficulty repelling a full-scale Chinese attack. While I’m not prepared to criticize the decision to reject Taiwan’s bid for advanced F-16’s, I do worry about China gaining an overwhelming and unrecoverable advantage in hard power terms. The United States is obligated to defend Taiwan in the case of Chinese unilateral aggression. While this commitment will become more burdensome as the balance of power shifts,  it is a responsibility which the United States should welcome, as it advances America’s national interest. The active engagement of the United States has contributed greatly to the peace and stability between China and Taiwan; in addition to arms sales, America’s commitment to defend Taiwan is a critical deterrent against aggressive Chinese action. Taiwan is a democracy with a good human rights record, and it is a responsible and important player in the global economy. Further, America’s alliance with Taiwan provides the United States with many geopolitical and strategic benefits. For all these reasons, America must support Taiwan.

Taiwan arms sales are a delicate balancing act for the United States. While America must maintain a good relationship with China, it is important to preserve the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait. The difficult, but necessary task is for American diplomats to reconcile these seemingly incompatible goals.

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Libyan “Hostilities” Revisited June 20, 2011

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It’s already time for me to revisit the debate over Libyan “hostilities.” I’m not happy with my post last week, and a lot has happened since then. The House of Representatives is likely to consider two measures this week (probably on Thursday) relating to the US Libyan operation: an amendment to the FY2012 DOD appropriations bill offered by Rep. Kucinich to defund the entire operation, and some sort of Republican alternative, the exact language of which is still being worked out by GOP leadership. There are really three questions at stake here, which I feel like my last post did not delineate clearly:

1: Are American military operations in Libya justified?

2: Is the President legally bound to receive authorization from Congress in order to conduct these operations?

3: Regardless of the answer to question 2, should the President seek authorization from Congress?

In my last post, I only really answered question 1, and I did so indirectly. I fully support US military operations in Libyan and believe they are justified. The United States and its allies prevented a massacre, upholding the R2P norm, at little cost. While the US took the lead at first, we did so in conjunction with a broad coalition that included Arab and African countries. Qaddafi’s regime was causing insecurity in North Africa and the world, and there was a serious threat to the stability of Arab Spring hopefuls Tunisia and Egypt, which Libya borders. The alternative, withdrawing our support for the NATO mission, would undermine whatever levels of trust we have with our allies. While the mission of the NATO military operation is not regime change, that is the stated political goal. Establishing a new regime in Libya (one of the most tribal countries in Africa) will certainly be messy, but I agree with the administration’s decision to make regime change the explicit political goal. This is a very low-cost way for the US to achieve a desired long-term goal.

Regarding question 2, there is really no clear answer. The controversy over this particular question intensified over the weekend when it was reported that President Obama overruled the legal advice of his Attorney General and the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. These two offices are charged with providing the Oval Office legal counsel, and to overrule them both is a major statement. Admittedly, the President knows a thing or two about the constitution, and he does have the final say. The statute in question, the War Powers Act, is extremely ambiguous, and the judicial branch has not, and seemingly will not, issue a formal ruling. Thus, Congress could clarify the law, or it could use its tools to make Obama suffer for this politically. It will definitely do the latter, and it may attempt to do the former. While Obama may suffer political consequences, he will not suffer legal ones.

Ideally the answer to question 3 is yes. The more debate and oversight that takes place in Congress, the more democratic America becomes. However, things are not that simple when politics are involved. My former professor, and respected Arab world commenter, Marc Lynch posits that the administration did not seek Congressional authorization early on in its Libyan operation because it correctly believed there would be significant, unwanted riders attached to the legislation like repealing health care reform, reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, or more budget cuts. I think he is right. The truth is, nobody knows what would have happened had the administration tried to receive authorization from Congress last week before the 90 day threshold expired. The administration judged the wiser choice was to claim it does not need Congressional authorization because the War Powers Act does not apply to its current Libyan operations.

Marc Lynch also wishes that the administration would seek Congressional authorization and make a “full-throated case for the Libya intervention– why it was launched, what it accomplished, where it fits into the broader unfolding Arab transformation, and how its success will advance American interests.” Now that is has made it official policy that the administration does not need Congress’ approval, this will not happen. I am satisfied that the 30 page memo to Congress fulfills this explanation on the part of the administration. While it may not be the unabashed defense of the Libyan “hostilities” that Lynch desires, it persuasively answers the questions of “why it was launched, what it accomplished, where it fits into the broader unfolding Arab transformation, and how its success will advance American interests.”

RSA Animate: Crisis of Capitalism? June 18, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Economics, Politics, World Affairs.
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In this RSA Animate series entitled “Crisis of Capitalism,” sociologist David Harvey lays out the standard analyses of what went wrong in the 2007-2009 Financial Crisis, and then then offers a Marxist interpretation of his own. The categories he lays out at the beginning  are instructive, and he presents some important facts about wage stagnation, wealth accumulation at the top, and the dominance of capital over labor. The video is thought-provoking and worth-watching, however his ultimate conclusions are unpersuasive.

Harvey argues that capitalism “never solves its crisis problems,” instead “it moves them around geographically.” He asserts that this is exactly what has happened: the US is recovering from its financial crisis, but Greece is experiencing a sovereign debt crisis. While both of these things are happening, Harvey makes no attempt to provide a causal link between the US recovery and the crisis in Greece. Without strong contrary evidence, I’m inclined to believe that the US recovery has little to do with the Greek sovereign debt crisis. Greece’s fiscal problems and economic stagnation date back decades, and why would US economic production cause Greece to be unable to repay maturing debt? Harvey doesn’t say.

Finally, Harvey concludes on a revolutionary note arguing that “any sensible person right now would join an anti-capitalist organization.” This is an overstatement. There is clearly room to solve the problems that led to the financial crisis within a capitalist system. In America, Dodd-Frank was a start. We still need more consumer protection safeguards and regulatory reform in the financial sector. I do like how Harvey concludes by suggesting that we need a broader discussion to solve these problems. A more inclusive dialogue will help bring about an economic system that is more responsible, just, and humane. However, it will be a capitalist system, and it should be.

Libyan Hostilities? June 16, 2011

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Do U.S. operations in Libya amount to “hostilities” as defined by the War Powers Act? That is the big question among national security legal experts right now. The divide between the legislative and executive branches of America’s federal government over the War Powers Act of 1973 has always been stark. And the judicial branch (which is supposed to mediate disputes such as this) has distinctly avoided weighing in on the matter. The law was passed in 1973 by a supermajority in both houses of Congress, overriding President Nixon’s veto. The law basically says that the President is only authorized to initiate the armed forces into “hostilities” if one of three things has occurred: 1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. Most President’s, detesting the law’s constraints on their power, have openly declared the law to be unconstitutional. They cite Article II, Section 2 of the constitution which simply states that the President is Commander and Chief of the armed forces.

Congress has been clamoring for an explanation from the administration of its Libyan operations. On Wednesday they got it, with the Obama Administration arguing that nothing it was doing in Libya constituted “hostilities.” The lack of hostilities makes the War Powers Act totally inapplicable. The administration sent a 30-page memo to Congress, 14 pages of which are unclassified. I find almost every argument the administration makes in the memo compelling. Most of them are not new; the memo repeats the same arguments the administration has made since March, and they are well-founded.

The memo starts with background, and quickly refutes one of the most frequent objections, “well if we go into Libya, why not Bahrain, Syria, or Cote D’Ivoire?” The administration’s response is that Libya was unique: “In this particular country – Libya – at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.” One or more of these conditions was not satisfied in the other countries.

Since coming into office, President Obama has projected a coherent vision of engagement with the world based on strengthening the international rule of law. The Libyan intervention falls right in line with this tenet of his. The international principle of the “responsibility to protect” was invoked and reinforced. The intervention had a wide mandate from the United Nations. Qadhafi’s brutal violence against his own population has been catalogued by a United Nations Commission of Inquiry and has resulted in a request for arrest warrants by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Standing idly by would have undermined the United States’ credibility as well as that of the international community’s role in preventing mass atrocities from occurring.

The administration’s memo also explains that America’s role is truly quite limited. The administration makes a convincing argument that the U.S. is not engaged in “hostilities” as the War Powers Act intends. Since March 31, when the U.S. handed off the primary command and control duties to NATO, America’s role has been limited to “electronic warfare assistance; refueling; strategic lift capability, personnel recovery and search and rescue, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support; and an alert strike package.” Since March 31, three-quarters of the over 10,000 sorties flown in Libya have now been by non-U.S. coalition partners, a share that has increased over time. All 20 ships enforcing the arms embargo are European or Canadian. The United States provides nearly 70 percent of the coalition’s intelligence capabilities and a majority of its refueling assets, enabling coalition aircraft to stay in the air longer and undertake more strikes. The US also lends its unique air strike capabilities – unmanned Predator UAVs – to the mission. So we perform intelligence, resupply non-US aircraft, and fly drones. That ain’t a whole lot. The Pentagon reports that this will cost $1.1 billion by September, but it has vowed not to seek off-budget appropriations (as was repeatedly necessary for Afghanistan and Iraq).

My one problem with the administration’s unclassified policy memo is the stated time line of operations. At the June 8 meeting of NATO Defense Ministers, NATO reaffirmed the April 14th statement of Foreign Ministers that operations would continue:

“until all attacks and threats against civilians and civilian populated areas have stopped… until the regime has pulled back all its forces — including its snipers and its mercenaries — away from civilian centers and back to their bases. And until there is a credible and verifiable ceasefire, paving the way for a genuine political transition and respecting the legitimate aspirations of the people of Libya.”

Although we’re not doing much in Libya’s airspace, and American lives are not at risk, this is a virtually open-ended mandate. Qadhafi has shown his resolve, he is not pulling back until the rebels and coalition forces push him back. Due to the highly tribalized and fragmented society that exists in Libya, a ceasefire that will “pave the way for a genuine political transition” will take years. $1 billion is not much money to the Pentagon or the federal government, but if you extend that out for a couple years and consider other pressing, domestic spending priorities, the cost becomes a significant problem.

Are America’s Libyan operations illegal? No. Will the lawsuit filed by Rep. Kucinich et al. fail? Yes. Is it a problem that national security law at the highest levels is ambiguous? Absolutely. My personal opinion is that foreign policy decision-making should not be democratic. But at the same time there must be real transparency and accountability for the decisions which the President and his national security advisers make.

The E. Coli Outbreak and Internationalism June 12, 2011

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The outbreak of a rare, toxic strand of E. Coli in Europe is fascinating because it is a perfect demonstration of our interconnected world and because it has serious implications for multilateralism. The first article I read on the issue was this New York Times piece on May 29, 2011. While the source is northern Germany, the article states that there were cases identified in Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden because citizens from those countries had visited northern Germany recently. As a result, Austria and the Czech Republic halted imports of Germany vegetables. But the network of interconnection doesn’t stop there; according to the Czechs, shipments of the suspect vegetables also went to Hungary and Luxembourg. But there’s still more global-mania! The Germans blamed two Spanish farms in Málaga and Almería. Spain denied those accusations and continued to export vegetables from those farms while commencing an analysis of their soil, water, and produce.

Since May 29, Russia has banned all imports from Europe, US citizens have been hospitalized, European farmers are going broke, and the source of the outbreak has been confirmed as bean sprouts in northern Germany. To date, 31 people have died from the virus and the number of reported cases has risen to 2,988, with over 750 of those affected by a serious complication that can cause kidney failure. When people talk about global issues that span national borders, this is what they are talking about. This outbreak makes a perfect case for stronger and more effective international institutions. Nations must share information, combine resources, and work together to meet challenges which span national boundaries.

The irony of course is that Europe already has the most integrated and sophisticated regional institutions in the world. And how have those institutions fared during this crisis? Most obviously, EU institutions failed to prevent the outbreak from spreading, admittedly a quite difficult task. More frequent inspections, and faster, more robust data sharing among European regulators would help mitigate the diffusion of the next public health threat. The most significant reactionary measure taken so far has been an aid package to compensate farmers suffering from the dramatic drop in demand for their products. On Tuesday, June 7, EU Agricultural Commisioner, Dacian Ciolos (a Romanian nominated by the Spanish European Comission President, José Manuel Barros), made a proposal whereby affected farmers would receive 30% of the market price of unsold crops, up to a total of €150m ($215m). This was immediately rejected as woefully insufficient by Spain, France and Italy. The following day, Ciolos unveiled a more generous scheme which would see all affected producers get 50% of market price, costing €210m ($301m) until the end of June. In addition, the estimated one-third of farmers who are members of national producer organizations will get another 20%, funded 50/50 by the EU and the organizations of which they are members. This plan is expected to be ratified at a meeting of European Union officials next Tuesday. So now taxpayers in Greece, Finland, and Germany will effectively be compensating farmers in Spain, France, and Italy!

Stating that the world is interconnected has almost become hackneyed, but seeing the effects of globalization and EU institutions at work is still fascinating.

US Debt and Reason for Optimism April 20, 2011

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On Monday morning, April 18, the ratings agency Standard & Poor lowered its outlook on American debt from “stable” to “negative.” The change in S&P’s outlook on America’s credit worthiness signals that there is a one in three chance S&P will downgrade America’s credit rating (currently AAA) by 2013. The pundits, news anchors, and politicians went almost haywire over the announcement. The markets? They hardly budged. The Economist reports: “The market reaction has been about as benign as one could hope for; relative to the Friday close, equities are higher, bond yields are lower, and the dollar is basically flat. Markets shrugged.”

In a fantastic piece on the reality of America’s debt crisis, “American Government Debt: What, US Worry?”, The Economist’s Free Exchange blog provides logic and level-headedness throughout. The article clearly shows that America has a debt problem, but not an absurdly bad one. “America’s ratio of gross government debt to GDP currently stands at about 99%. That’s not an absurdly high level for a rich country at the present time. It’s about 24% above Germany’s ratio and 20% above Britain’s. It’s 82% of Italy’s debt ratio, 66% of Greece’s, and less than half of Japan’s.”

The problem is that America’s debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to continue growing for the foreseeable future, whereas many of those large European countries are expected to have falling debt-to-GDP ratios by 2013.

However, there are some truly optimistic signs of hope when one seriously looks at America’s debt situation. America’s projected economic growth is strong; by 2016 the IMF believes America will grow at twice the pace of the German economy. America has better demographics than countries in Europe or Japan. America’s population is generally younger and immigration flows are higher (Immigration is good for long-term growth!) Additionally, America issues the world’s dominant reserve currency and the most plentiful safe asset. This means the dollar will remain strong and America will be able to continue borrowing at low interest rates.

Additionally, the article points out that there are clear routes forward to solve its fiscal situation, both on the taxing side and the spending side. The Economist supports low taxes but still recommends comprehensive tax reform which would marginally raise taxes on all individuals while broadening the tax base substantially. This is common sense and it is what President Obama has proposed.

Further on the optimistic front: “it was scarcely a decade ago that America was running actual surpluses and not long before that that bitterly opposed politicians were cutting deals that made those surpluses possible.”

Without question, America requires action on fiscal matters. But it’s delusive for two reasons to suggest that America must make imminent budget cuts to discretionary spending programs to solve its long-term debt problem. One: the problem is not an imminent crisis. Two: cuts to discretionary programs mathematically cannot solve the debt problem.

In fact, the cuts made in the FY2011 budget compromise made last week will hurt the economy. Unfortunately, politicians on both sides of the aisle grandstand as if deficit reduction has begun in order to capitalize on the country’s budget-cutting mood. Meanwhile, objective economists on both sides of the aisle state that the economy will suffer as a result of these cuts. Consumer spending will decrease, and some jobs will be destroyed or not created.

To solve America’s long-term debt problem, maturity and cool heads must prevail in Congress. Bipartisanship has always taken place in the past, and it will take place in the future. While America’s political system is at times maddening, it was designed to produce compromise. During the course of America’s history, congressional leaders and presidents have generally risen to the challenge when crises were in fact imminent. If America’s debt problem becomes a crisis, it can be resolved. Until then, America should focus on rebuilding its economy, and structuring it to compete successfully in the future.

Egypt in Crisis January 28, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Events, Politics, World Affairs.
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Protests in Egypt are larger and more intense than they’ve ever been before. “Unprecedented” is the word most frequently used to describe the current political events there. The size of the democratic revolt is unprecedented, as are the levels of repression and censorship. After videos like this Tiananmen square incident and this government shooting were posted to internet sites, the Egyptian government shut down Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and other social networking sites. This extreme form of government repression and censorship reminds me of the Iranian protests after their June 2009 election was allegedly rigged. The main difference between these protests and those of the Green Movement in Iran is that the Egyptian regime is a staunch ally of the US, whereas the Iranian government is Americas top foe in the region. This fact makes for an extremely delicate challenge for the Obama administration. How should the U.S. respond when a democratic revolution threatens to topple a government that serves our interests?

In his State of the Union, the President spoke of the ideas our nation was founded upon. Perhaps the two most fundamental ideas of the American revolution was that all people have the rights to liberty and to govern their own affairs. The political repression in Egypt is on par with the harshest in the world. The economy has been horribly mismanaged for years. Egyptians don’t have certain inalienable rights. America’s fundamental values from which American exceptionalism is derived – liberty, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness – are in direct conflict with a state which protects our core vital interests i.e. counter-terrorism, cheap flow of oil through the Suez Canal, as well as mediation in regional issues such as Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran. Our values conflict with our realpolitik national interests. Historically, for the United States the later has nearly always trumped the former; our core vital interests as a state override our the values we profess to uphold.

But this is the wrong time to forsake our values. Not only is standing on the side of freedom and democracy the right thing to do, if the calculation of the United States’ core interests is made with a long-term view, it is also in the best interest of the United States. Mubarak is 84 years old and sick, the population is young, unemployed and restless, and inflation is off the charts. These protests may or may not topple the regime, but they have already made the US support for Mubarak more costly. Mubarak’s succession is imminent. One way or another he will be replaced soon. Rather than attempting to prop him (or his son) up indefinitely, the United States should support the people of Egypt, both in words and deeds by using its immense leverage with the Egyptian government to make serious, democratic reforms.

Like all revolutions, the one gathering steam in Egypt is multifarious. Thus, it is difficult to tell whether the next government of Egypt (whenever it comes) will be closer in political outlook to the Muslim Brotherhood or Mohammed El-Baraedi. The US would certainly prefer the later, but that is not a choice for the US to make. Instead it should distance itself from the Mubarak regime (something the Obama administration is already beginning to do). The US should also seek better relations with future power brokers in Egypt, so that when power changes hands the US will be more likely to find common ground with the new regime.

This should get very interesting!

The best Western-based coverage I’ve seen so far is a primary account in the NY Review of Books, however it’s author was a Cairo-based Egyptian journalist, Yasmine El Rashidi. Twitter has some good coverage as well: lots of links to primary coverage. One tweet read: “The entire nation of Egypt has no Internet access, and the top story on the NYT is the Chicago Mayor’s race? WTF??”

Provacative Read from STRATFOR, But Misguided October 26, 2010

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This is a pretty provocative article by George Friedman at STRATFOR. Friedman basically argues that a successful full-scale attack on Iran is Obama’s best chance of getting reelected in 2012. He asserts this after speculating on Obama’s post-midterm political calculus. Though he concludes by arguing that an attack on Iran is not a good idea (the risks outweigh the rewards), he maintains that without a decisive attack upon Iran or an economic boom, Obama will fail to be reelected. It is indeed a subtle argument.

While I agree that an attack on Iran is not a good idea due to the potential negative repercussions (oil disruptions, Iranian-incited terrorist campaign, Iranian potential to excacerbate problems in Iraq and Afghanistan), I disagree that it is the only (or even the best) strategy for Obama’s reelection. I think that’s a silly argument to be making right now; It’s too early to make bold claims about the President’s reelection chances. Friedman’s article looks even more silly if he truly is against an Iranian attack and thinks it’s a bad idea. In this sense his argument trips on itself: If an Iranian attack is a debacle, as Friedman thinks to be most likely (risks outwiegh rewards), then this will further hurt Obama’s chances to get reelected not help them!

I thoroughly enjoyed the article for its insightful musings on both Obama’s political options and a potential Iranian attack. And for that I recommend it. However his conclusion that this is the best way for Obama to get reelected seems off base.


What are New START’s Chances? October 21, 2010

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The New START treaty was signed in April between Presidents Obama and Medvedev and will reduce both countries deployed strategic nuclear weapons by 30%. Additionally it will reimpose a verifications process on each country’s nuclear arsenal consisting of on-site monitoring, data exchanges, and more. New START replaces the original START treaty which President Reagan helped negotiate and which was ratified by a vote of 93-6 while President H.W. Bush was in office. START 1 received such overwhelming bipartisan support because it’s one of the rare no-brainer political issues. Reducing nuclear weapons and improving transparency and cooperation with Russia through inspections makes the United States much safer.

The New START treaty is having an extremely tough time getting ratified in today’s Senate. Why? Because the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that they are willing to abandon common-sense national security in order to stymie a foreign policy victory for the president and his party. However, military and foreign policy experts, from both sides of the political divide, all agree that ratifying this treaty is essential. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the JCS Mike Mullen, seven former commanders of US Strategic Command, Henry Kissinger, and more ALL adamantly believe ratifying New START is crucial to our national security in multiple ways.

Currently all Democratic Senators plus the two Independents, as well as four Republicans are in favor of ratification. Due to the intense political partisanship the Republicans who have voted in favor can be labeled as courageous though I hesitate to do so because, like I said, ratification is a no-brainer. Thus for their “courage” they should be named: Sens. Richard Lugar, Johnny Isakson, Bob Corker, and Bob Bennett.

So that puts the public whip count at 64. To ratify a treaty you need a 2/3 supermajority, or 67 votes. No doubt the White House has been meeting assiduously with the few Republican Senators who are not ideologically backwards (Senator DeMint) and might be persuaded to vote for ratification.

Democrats first wanted a vote in June, Republicans delayed. Then Democrats wanted a vote in September or early October before Congress adjourned for the elections; again, Republicans delayed. The White House and Senate Majority Leader have made clear that New START is a priority in the lame duck session. Will it come up for a vote?

It seems to me unlikely that New START will come to a vote in the lame duck session. I don’t mean to be a naysayer but I do think its chances are slim. Senator John Kerry has estimated that three legislative days would be needed to debate the issue sufficiently on the floor. Given the other high priorities facing the Senate (Omnibus Appropriations, Defense Reauthorization Act, and the Bush tax cuts) I find it hard to believe that our constantly gridlocked Senate will find three days to spare for New START.  Three days for New START in a lame duck session expected to be only 2 weeks seems improbable. Additionally, the Republican Party has given no reason to believe they wont delay further on this issue, especially if they are emboldened by big legislative victories on November 2. Worse still, one of the crucial Republican votes, Sen. Bob Bennett, lost his primary to a Tea Party conservative crazy who is expected to win the seat easily, so his vote will be gone when the new session starts in January.

The consequences of failing to ratify the New START treaty are immense. Since START 1 has expired we have gone nearly a year without verifications and inspections on Russia’s nuclear arsenal; this is unsafe and irresponsible. Failure to ratify further harms our national security by weakening our negotiating hand with nuclear-hopeful states like Iran and North Korea. Not ratifying the treaty would also be a major set back in our relations with Russia – an extremely important geopolitical relationship despite that fact seeming to fade behind news of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Muslim World (whatever that is). If New START isn’t ratified in this Congress (only 2 weeks left of session), the treaty may not be ratified for very long time.

Ratification of New START is crucial for our national security and safety. The Republican idea that this would somehow grant the Democrats a victory is nonsense. It would be a victory for Republicans too, if they would only vote for it.  It would be a victory for the entire United States!

Afghanistan, the Yuan, Cap and Trade April 4, 2010

Posted by Afflatus in Environment, World Affairs.
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This article explains the extent to which both India and Pakistan are vying for influence in Afghanistan, and they’re essentially fighting a proxy war there. The article also makes clear that India’s interests don’t align with ours, and their presence there is increasing instability despite their philanthropy ($1.3 billion invested in irrigation, schools, hospitals).  Though obvious, it’s crucial to keep in mind that regional interests are extremely important. An uncritical reader of US media coverage of Afghanistan could easily lose sight of this fact. Though I do expect to see the US actively engaged in the region for many years, India and Pakistan’s interests will outlast ours.

I also thought Obama’s recent decision to delay this “Chinese currency manipulating Treasury report” was a great move. The way they handled it seems truly creative and I’m becoming optimistic the issue will be resolved diplomatically later this year. The genius of it is that the US will be in a relatively stronger negotiating position vis a vis China in June. They’re also getting fantastic talking points and sound bites into the media.I’m in favor of anything multilateral and diplomatic, AND they whipped the unions and labor leaders into support.

The EU’s cap and trade system seems to have been implemented horribly! A surplus of permits not sold but handed out for free, and a overall emissions cap which was set too high has created serious problems. The silver lining in the article is that businesses were able to reduce emissions for cheaper than everyone expected! What should the EU’s policy be going forward? Lower the overall cap, tell businesses to stop whining, and devalue the permits.