Archive for the Intl Relations Category

Bill Whalen

 

To get a sense of what President Obama is up againstTuesday night when he makes the case for a military strike against Syria:

(1) The timing – giving a nationwide address hours and days later than he’d like. If the purpose were to rally a war-weary public and change votes in Congress, Sunday or Mondaywould have made more sense. But that would have pitted the most powerful man in America against America’s most powerful cartel: the National Football League, which owns TV’s prime time on Sunday and Monday evenings.

(2) The unsubtle irony of a man who sought the presidency with the promise of ending wars, perhaps starting us down the road to yet another. Only, it’s not a war. In Mr. Obama’s words: “Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope . . .” Mr. Obama wants to come across as a hawkish dove or a dovish hawk – sort of like a Yankees fan with a Boston accent.

(3) The backdrop. Should Mr. Obama give the big speech from the Oval Office, traditionally the home of epic presidential moments, he’ll be doing so in a setting that his former chief speechwriter believes is a lousy stage.

About that wordsmith: his name’s Jon Favreau and he left the Obama White House in May to strike it rich in Hollywood. Lately, he’s been attending White House meetings. So let’s assume he has a say in what the President says on Tuesday.

And exactly will that be – or, more to the point, what can he say that he already hasn’t said, and change what may be a serious setback to his last term in office?

Put yourself in the shoes of the White House rhetoric machine. For the past few days, fueled by copious amounts of Red Bull to Adderall to stay awake and Aaron Sorkin’s liberal fantasies to stay inspired, you’ve been searching for historical precedent – a past presidential means to justice Mr. Obama’s political end. Preferably, it’s a Democratic ex-president as you comrade in arms, as it were.

But here’s the problem: the past doesn’t make for good Syria prologue. Consider the words of these Democrats who rallied their country to arms:

Woodrow Wilson, War Message to Congress, 4/2/1917

“Our object now, as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles . . .We are at the beginning of an age in which it will be insisted that the same standards of conduct and of responsibility for wrong done shall be observed among nations and their governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilized states.”

Click to read more.

Print Friendly
Russell Berman

Candidates in Europe

The US Presidential election will be won and lost on the domestic economy, so Mitt Romney’s recent trip to three capitals –London, Jerusalem and Warsaw—provided some distraction in the summer lead-up to the party conventions and the start of the real campaign season in the fall. His itinerary gave the presumptive Republican candidate an opportunity to profile himself to the American electorate: as a successful executive who had organized the Salt Lake City Olympics, as a firm supporter of Israel (in contrast to President Obama who has refrained from visiting there while in office), and as an advocate of the liberty of Eastern Europe. The warm support from Lech Walesa this summer will serve him well in the ballot boxes of western Pennsylvania in November.

Yet Romney is not the first American presidential candidate to campaign through European capitals, and his travels abroad invite a comparison with Barack Obama’s tour just four years ago, especially the main event, the speech at the Victory Column in Berlin in front of an enormous crowd of 200, 000 or more. That demonstration of Obama’s charisma and popularity in Europe certainly strengthened his credibility among American voters, frustrated with the apparent fraying of the Atlantic alliance during the administration of George W. Bush. Obama promised to calm the waters, restore old friendships and build a robust cooperation between the US and Europe.

The Romney visit is a chance to reevaluate the Obama visit and ask: has Obama fulfilled the hope to change the trans-Atlantic divide?

Click to read more.

Print Friendly
Kori Schake

Democracy Grows Bolder in Iran

One of the most enduring assertions about Iran is that its people support the government’s determination to continue its nuclear programs.  This belief underlies our hesitance in preventing development of an Iranian bomb, and also constrains our options.  If in acting against this Iranian government we cause Iranians to rally around it, Iran could become even more dangerous, the time delayed when this government so damaging to Iranians themselves is finally brought down.

But is it true that Iranians en masse support their country continuing its nuclear programs, especially at the price in sanctions and international opprobrium they are currently paying?  We don’t actually know.  However, it appears Iranians are beginning to question this shibboleth, and their prods for the government to determine public attitudes may become an important means by which Iranians challenge their authoritarian government.

The Iranian political class seems to believe they are on solid ground in asserting the Iranian people consider nuclear energy a national right.  A 2010 RAND survey showed 97% of Iranians believe so (although only 32% supported developing nuclear weapons).

Click to read more.

Print Friendly
Kori Schake

The Department of Defense’s reprogramming request — the appeal to Congress to allow  the Pentagon to move money among its accounts — reveals the Pentagon failed to anticipate $8 billion they have spent since the 2012 budget went into effect.  While that sounds like a lot, DOD has actually come within 1.2% of its anticipated needs, which is solid performance for any organization.  What is worrisome about the reprogramming request is not the overall number, but the needlessly inflicted $100 million every month we are paying because President Obama cannot bring himself to apologize to Pakistan for killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Reprogramming is a rite of summer in the Pentagon budget, the Secretary asking the authorizing committees (Armed Services) and appropriating committees of the House and Senate for the latitude to readjust its spending.  Reprogramming does not add money to the budget, it reallocates already appropriated money to different uses.  It is not a means for implementing new policies; it shifts money between accounts to pay for agreed activities that prove costlier than predicted, identifying the lower priority activities that will have money taken.

This year’s reprogramming request totals $8.2 billion, which is pretty close to the mark in an overall defense profile of $703 billion for the year (this counts both the DOD baseline budget, as well as war funding, nuclear programs, and support to other agencies’ programs that are paid for by DOD but not strictly defense activities).  In general, reprogramming shows the professional competence of the Pentagon’s budget staff: they’re mighty good at their work to come within 1.2% of their spending plan, especially given the number of variables affecting their budget.

Also as usual, the changing cost of fuel is the main driver of reprogramming.  What the rest of us have experienced at the gas pump the Pentagon, as the world’s largest consumer of fuel, experiences to an even greater degree.  This is all business as usual.

Click to read more.

Print Friendly
Russell Berman

Fallout from the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act will stretch through the presidential election and beyond, and legal commentators have plenty of questions to address: the limitations on the Commerce Clause, the ambiguity in the relationship of taxes to penalties, the implications for federalism in the treatment of Medicaid and, perhaps most ominously, the extent to which the Chief Justice may have been swayed by the political campaign waged in the press. None of these topics will be clarified quickly. While conservative commentators have expressed divergent evaluations of the outcome, there is one point of agreement: the Affordable Care Act represents a major increase in the reach of federal power, profoundly rearranging relationships among Washington, the states and individuals. The health care debate is a struggle over constitutional order.

Just as this drama has been playing out in Washington, the potential role of the judiciary in preserving democracy and the rule of law has come to the fore across the Atlantic in a remarkably similar conflict. A constitutional conflict is emerging through the Euro crisis.

Click to read more.

Print Friendly
Leisel Bogan

On June 15th 2012, the International Criminal Court will swear in its second Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, at its headquarters in The Hague, just weeks before the Court’s tenth anniversary on July 1st. Bensouda takes the reigns at an important juncture: a four-person ICC delegation sits detained in a Libyan prison, the ICC’s arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has not resulted in his capture, a state-sponsored slaughter of civilians continues in Syria and the court, having spent $900 million dollars over the last ten years, has successfully prosecuted only one individual. For all its symbolic importance and dedication to “never again,” the International Criminal Court has been at best an awkward institution of the international community, and at worst, an ineffectual instrument of politics-by-other-means.

As Eric Posner recently pointed out, the International Criminal Court’s focus on genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes seems incongruous with its jurisdiction—few authoritarian or military states have acceded to its Statute. This, too, is not without complication, as we saw in the declaration lodged with the Office of the Prosecutor by the Palestinian Authority. The Prosecutor rejected the case after three long years of fruitless and very public debate over whether the Palestinian entity constituted a state under international law. Some scholars have argued that current prosectuor O’Campo entertained the declaration as an end-run against the existing Middle East peace process, or simply to counteract criticism that the court is biased against Africa. The court was not established to decide complicated international policy matters nor was it designed to be a tool of the diplomatic process. Additionally, individuals whose status is unclear under international law—who, not coincidentally, are often those most exposed to crimes against humanity—may still lack an institution capable of addressing their grievances.

Click to read more.

Print Friendly
Kori Schake

Yesterday President Obama once again used the U.S. military as a backdrop to burnish his national security credentials, this time rolling out a campaign speech praising his own achievements at the graduation of the Air Force Academy.  The President said “around the world, the United States is leading once more. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are stronger than ever.”  National Security Advisor Tom Donnelly briefed the press in advance of last week’s G-8 and NATO summits that President Obama has “reinvigorated and revitalized our alliances.”

One problem with this approach is that the data just doesn’t back him up.  My favorite example is Egypt, at 82 million people the Middle East’s largest country, bellweather of the Arab Spring, the place President Obama went to deliver an “historic” speech about repairing America’s relations with the so-called Muslim world.  Egyptians went to the polls today to freely choose their President for the first time ever…and they did so with no encouragement or praise from the Free World’s leader. Hilariously, while President Obama is too busy touting his own foreign policy prowess to pay attention to the Egyptian elections, even amidst their historic transition, Egyptians have time to inform themselves about our President election: according to the Pew Poll on International Public Attitudes, 71% of Egyptians report they would vote for the Republican nominee instead of Barack Obama.  President Obama may be able to be reelected in the United States, but he couldn’t get elected in Egypt.

Print Friendly
Kori Schake

Alexis Tsipras won the Greek elections.  His Coalition of the Radical Left garnered the most votes, and his insistence that the leaders of Greece’s mainstream parties sign a “letter of repentance” for agreeing to the EU bailout prevented formation of a government, necessitating yet another round of elections June 17th.  Nine hundred billion dollars was withdrawn from Greek banks on Monday alone; its credit has been further downgraded “further into junk territory” (as the Wall Street Journal so nicely termed it) in anticipation of Greece abandoning or being forced out of the European Monetary Union.

His party is committed to abrogating the deal whereby Greece reduces its sovereign debt in return for liquidity to get it through near term spending needs.  Near term, in the case of Greek indebtedness, extends to other European countries underwriting Greek debt for the coming decade, including another $220 billion Greece needs by the end of June.

Greece’s leading politician tried his hand at foreign policy yesterday, threatening his lenders with default unless they relax their conditions for Greece to cut its spending and retire its debt.  Tsipras essentially told the Wall Street Journal that unless the EU continued to give Greece money without strings attached, Greece would bring down the entire European banking system.

Specifically, he said “whatever we do, things will be difficult. But it will also be difficult at the same time for all of Europe because the euro will collapse.”  It merits recalling that Greece got into this mess because the government committed fraud by knowingly masking its debts.  Even if Greece proceeds with the stark program of spending reductions agreed to with the EU, Greece’s debt will only be reduced to 120% of GDP by 2020.

Click to read more.

Print Friendly
Kori Schake

Caveat Inauguror

The government of China has just given yet another reason investors should be wary of operating in the Chinese market.  The Chinese Ministry of Finance has announced regulations, requiring western auditing firms to give control to local partners by the end of 2012, effectively ending the independence of firms operating in the Chinese market.

This comes on the heels of several high-profile cases of accounting fraud in recent years, and the Securities and Exchange Commission charging accounting firm Deloitte for refusing to hand over documents in a fraud case of a Chinese firm listed in the U.S. (Deloitte claims it would violate Chinese law to do so).  The Finance Ministry’s action will be read as validating concerns about the opaque and often corrupt practices of Chinese firms.

Given the collusion of Chinese government and business, both through state-owned firms and politicized decisions on everything from bank lending to police investigations, the regulatory take-over of auditing firms bodes ill for investors getting reliable information on the business practices of companies in which they take an interest.

Academics and politicians often marvel at what French Finance Minister (and later President) Valery Giscard d’Estaing called the “exorbitant privilege” that accrues to the United States by the U.S. dollar being the world’s major holding currency.  And it is a privilege, often undeserved by us, as now, when our government proves unwilling to make sensible choices about economic fundamentals such as debt reduction.  But it merits remembering that American dominance is not alone a function of American choices.  It also results from the choices of others.

For all the talk of a rising China, they are making quite a number of choices that will keep the dollar a safe harbor of value and call into question the reliability of information so important to encourage investment.  China may not rise either so far or so fast as predicted unless they reform the crony authoritarianism that looks to be the hallmark of their economic model.

Print Friendly