US Foreign Policy: Donald Trump’s humiliation in Helsinki


July 23, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Donald Trump’s humiliation in Helsinki

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/07/21/donald-trumps-humiliation-in-helsinki

How to interpret a shameful press conference with Vladimir Putin

“Perhaps, as some suspect, Mr Putin really does have material compromising Mr Trump. Either way, where America once aspired to be a beacon, relativism rules. That leaves all democracies more vulnerable.”- The Economist

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How to make America Great? By Making Russia Great Again. That was what the POTUS did in Helsinki, Finland. He made Putin smell roses.

DONALD TRUMP likes to boast that he does things differently from his predecessors. That was certainly true of his trip to Europe. In Brussels he chided Germany for a gas deal that left it “totally controlled by Russia”. In England he humiliated his host, Theresa May, blasting her Brexit plan before holding her hand and hailing “the highest level of special” relationship. From his Scottish golf resort he called the European Union a “foe” on trade. And in Helsinki, asked whether Russia had attacked America’s democracy, he treated President Vladimir Putin as someone he trusts more than his own intelligence agencies. It was a rotten result for America and the world.

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Americans were more than usually outraged. At the post-summit press conference in Helsinki, with the world watching and the American flag behind him, their head of state had appeared weak. He was unwilling to stand up for America in the face of an assault that had been graphically described three days earlier by Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing election meddling, in his indictment of 12 Russian military-intelligence officers . Republicans were among Mr Trump’s fiercest critics. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” wrote Senator John McCain. Even Newt Gingrich, normally a staunch defender, decried “the most serious mistake of his presidency”. The reaction forced Mr Trump into a convoluted series of climbdowns, which did little to repair the damage.

Yet, for all his hostility towards allies and cosiness with Mr. Putin, the trip could have been an even bigger disaster. Fears that Mr Trump might torpedo the NATO summit, as he had the G7 one, proved overblown. He put his name to a communiqué reaffirming the allies’ commitment to mutual defence and their tough stance against Russia. Worries that with Mr Putin he might promise to roll back sanctions or recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea proved groundless—as far as we can tell (the presidents met with only their interpreters present).

Mr Trump even did some useful things. He was right to press NATO allies to spend more on defence, even if his claim to have raised “vast amounts of money” is an exaggeration. And talking to his Russian counterpart makes sense. To be sure, Mr Trump’s hopes for a tremendous relationship with Mr Putin may end in a familiar disappointment: George W. Bush looked into Mr Putin’s eyes and detected a soul, and Russia invaded Georgia; Barack Obama pressed a “reset” button, and Russia invaded Ukraine. But America and Russia have a lot to discuss, not least on nuclear-arms control.

America worst

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However, these gains come at too high a price. Mr Trump’s behaviour, a quixotic mix of poison and flattery, has further undermined Europeans’ trust in America. When asked about the Mueller probe and the decline in relations with Russia, Mr Trump said feebly that he holds “both countries responsible”. Perhaps his vanity does not allow him to treat seriously a Russian attack that he fears could tarnish his own election triumph. Perhaps, as some suspect, Mr Putin really does have material compromising Mr Trump. Either way, where America once aspired to be a beacon, relativism rules. That leaves all democracies more vulnerable.

Mr Putin, fresh from a successful World Cup, thus emerges as the winner in Helsinki. True, he may have scored an own goal in admitting that, yes, he had wanted Mr Trump to win the election. But a self-doubting West, damaged democracy and the spectacle of America’s president deferring to him on the world stage count as a hat-trick at the other end. In Helsinki Mr Putin looked smug. Mr Trump looked, at best, a mug.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Humiliation in Helsinki”

 

 

Summitry can be overdone and self defeating


June 22, 2018

Summitry can be overdone and self defeating

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com

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Trump-Putin Helsinki Summit: Football Diplomacy

TOP meetings of political leaders are supposed to mean something important and special. However, such meetings of leaders at their respective peaks, or summits, tend to be overdone by many countries for their perceived glamour value.

Even the supposed chutzpah and gravitas that summitry participants believe they would acquire seem to be wearing thin.Most summits appear to be no more than glorified photo-opportunities, a thriving cottage industry and something of a jet-setting racket.

Nonetheless, while routine summits between the leaders of Togo and Nauru may not seem likely, much less determine global events, a rare summit of major world powers is always significant.

Such an event can defuse tensions, build mutual confidence and goodwill, and improve bilateral relations generally. The benefits are also likely to be felt by smaller nations within strategic range.

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President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong

When US President Richard Nixon met Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Beijing in 1972, the occasion deservedly made world headlines. Not only did they meet as the Cold War raged, but a conservative US President and leader of the “free world” had deigned to travel to China to confer with communist leaders there.

Washington found it worthwhile even if the Nixon-Kissinger team was seen to have journeyed far to “pay tribute” to the Great Helmsman. To US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, it was clearly more than just a diplomatic trip or even a state visit. No less important than improving US-China relations, the event developed an implicit US-China pact against the Soviet Union.

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Nixon-Kissinger drove a wedge between Beijing and Moscow to deepen the Sino-Soviet split of the Khrushchev years. Kissinger had also negotiated separately with Khrushchev’s successor Leonid Brezhnev.

The instrumental nature of the Beijing summit could not escape Chinese and US realities. It served only to formalise bilateral ties, and it would take another seven years before their relations could be normalised.

One decade-plus after Beijing, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Geneva. The 1985 summit was the first of several.

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President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev

Again, these had to do with more than improving bilateral relations. Formally they concerned arms limitation and common ties, but more broadly Reagan was also encouraging a reformist Gorbachev to open up his country.

Within three months of the initial summit, Gorbachev introduced restructuring (perestroika) in early 1986. The following year Reagan, in a visit to Berlin, rhetorically called on Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.

In 1988 Gorbachev introduced a new openness and freedoms in the Soviet Union (glasnost). The Cold War was formally coming to an end – and on Boxing Day 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed.

A summit with the US President, particularly if it is one-on-one, is more than just a White House visit. It is a carefully staged, highly publicised event that is supposed to carry considerable weight and prestige.

Senior US officials therefore guard it jealously and grant it sparingly or not at all. Sometimes this means rejecting the prospect of a summit even when it can do some good.

When Senator Barack Obama was asked in mid-2007 if he would agree to unconditional talks with the leaders of Cuba, Iran or North Korea, he said he would.

An immediate backlash erupted, particularly from Hillary Clinton, Obama’s main rival as party nominee for the presidential campaign. She condemned his readiness to negotiate as “irresponsible” and “naïve”.

Ironically, just months before, Hillary voiced support for the US President talking with his global adversaries. She even claimed to have advised George W. Bush to proceed with such talks.

As usual, politics gets in the way of judicious perceptions of meaningful summits. The purpose and value of summits are diminished as a result.

The two inter-Korean summits in April and May this year signaled the opening of North Korea and its readiness to negotiate away its nuclear arms stockpile.

Both summits were preceded, and followed, by summits in China between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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The Singapore Trump-Kim Sentosa Summit on June 12, 2018 reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

All these summits with Kim were merely the build-up to the grand prize – the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore of June 12.

This was a first, and a summit to be held without preconditions.

North Korean leaders had wanted a summit with a US President for decades. And, until Trump, US Presidents had snubbed all such previous prospects.

Most US officials have hitherto regarded such a summit as a “reward” for an autocratic North Korean leader, oblivious to the goodwill and confidence-building it can generate. Still, the Singapore summit was generally regarded positively. Both leaders smiled pleasantly to the cameras and to each other, projecting cordiality without mishap.

Whatever the US Establishment might have thought then, or since, the international community welcomed the summit as a timely occasion heralding better times on the Korean peninsula and in Asia.

Warming to summit mode, Trump’s presence at the NATO summit in Brussels this month saw him in his trademark brusque transactional style.

There was no diplomatic incident only because there was nothing diplomatic about it. Trump reportedly rattled alliance presumptions and insisted that NATO allies pay more for their own defence.

This came just weeks after Trump alienated trade partners in Europe and Asia with tariffs. The NATO summit in turn left the security alliance feeling less than secure.

From Brussels Trump moved on to Helsinki, where he sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a four-eyes summit. The US media had no summit agenda and promptly speculated on what was discussed.

Inevitably a main item for the media was the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign. Did Trump succeed or fail in accusing Putin of such meddling to his face?

Such distractions divert from the actual content of the summit. When news broke about the summit covering a referendum for eastern Ukraine, some news reports focused on that but the alleged “meddling” issues remained. A summit-friendly Trump remains persona non grata to the US military-industrial complex despite his show of force in Syria, so the US deep state still wants to see him go. Even as his Presidency moves towards the mid-term, hopes of impeachment still linger.

Multiple investigations into supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign continue to pile on the pressure. But no sooner had Trump admitted that he “misspoke” to Putin at the summit, than he announces his invitation to Putin to visit the White House in the coming months.

This “return summit” is where Trump would now say the right things, or at least not say the wrong things. By now the US mainstream media, having thoroughly demonised Putin, relished a grand opportunity to take down Trump by association.

Trump may be getting the hang of summits, in stages, and possibly even enjoying summitry. However the knack of outpointing him by fair means or foul at such events remains with the US mainstream media.

The setup is not usually advantageous to a sitting President, especially when it is President Trump. He could reign supreme in his businesses, and his reality television shows. But the Presidency is a different kind of “business” altogether. Unlike other businesses where he may be the boss, a democracy rightly makes everyone else the boss of the leader.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Diplomacy and Foreign Judges


June 13, 2018

Diplomacy and Foreign Judges

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http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Diplomacy-and-Foreign-Judges-151200.html

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Justice Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the Hague – based International Court of Justice (ICJ) on November 20, 2017, as the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly supported his case forcing the UK to accept the will of the majority and withdraw its candidate Christopher Greenwood for the post.Justice Bhandari is recipient of a Doctorate (h.c) from The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh in 2018.

Could there be a keener pleasure than to sit around a fire and discuss diplomacy with a diplomat? Of course, there is no fire; just coffee, and that only in plastic cups, which nevertheless provides the fire, inside, instead of outside, but with the same cheering and relaxing power.

It’s after the coffee break at the ‘Education Institute’ and Ambassador Palihakkara has invited questions. “You said we cannot operate in isolation. But we have opposed the intervention of foreign judges in HR issues. As a diplomat how do you view this?” a student asks. Palihakkara makes it clear that he views it with disfavour, and concern and has no doubts that the same degree of disfavour would be forthcoming from every country, were such a thing suggested to them.

“I have probably spent around 20, 25 years at the HR Commission and the UN and Council and I have not seen a single country who wants foreign judges to come. I think the foreign judges are being suggested on the basis that the judiciary of that country is not independent. So if you show that your judiciary is independent, no one can ask foreign judges to come. Personally, I think having foreign judges will create more problems than solutions.”

If we are up to showing that our judiciary is independent, we can take a firm stand that our judiciary meets international standards. So we don’t need foreign Judges

Not everyone feels this way. I have met Sri Lankan patriots who feel differently. “I have always argued; how do we set up a credible mechanism to inquire into this, credible to the Tamils, credible to the rest of the world, and credible to ourselves? I don’t think you can do that exclusively with a local system. You need to bring credibility to the system you are setting up by bringing in an international panel of experts to preside over, but don’t lose control over the process. I think it can be done. Foreign judges are basically judges who will apply the law,” Godfrey Gunatilleke, Chairman Emeritus, Marga Institute said to me in 2015, when I interviewed him for Sunday Island.

Under the influence of that memory, I question Mr. Palihakkara. “I think this whole issue of being against foreign judges goes against the grain because there’s a huge credibility issue in countries like SL, third world countries. Credibility is only achieved when foreign assistance is obtained,” I begin coherently enough but muddy the waters somewhat by mentioning, Scotland Yard assistance, foreign coaches, foreign technical assistance as fait accompli arguments in favour of foreign judges.

“There is a distinction between technical assistance and judges,” Mr. Palihakkara asserts gently. He is all for getting foreign technical assistance for forensic and investigative activity and think it will enhance credibility and efficiency. “Getting foreign judges for judicial verdict is different.” Obviously, the former commissioner of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission feels strongly about this. Perhaps it’s a matter of national pride and honour, though the ambassador never puts it in such emotional terms. “There have been a lot of complaints about the judiciary, I agree with you. But we must rectify it here. We must allow the judges to work independently, not intimidate them. Politicians should stop telephoning them. Those are the things we must do. You can’t ask white gentlemen or ladies to come here and tell the judges that. You know our judges are literate people, educated, if they are allowed to work without telephone calls, intimidation and various other methods, they will work.”

Yes definitely national pride is an issue here. But not the only issue which plagues Mr. Palihakkara’s mind “If you have foreign judges, there will be conflict,” says this foreign service mandarin who became Foreign Secretary, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and retired as Governor of Northern Province. The idea of foreign judges according to Mr. Palihakkara generates too many open questions “Personally, I think having foreign judges will create more problems than solutions. How are the foreign judges going to operate? In conjunction with local judges or sitting in judgement of judgements delivered by local judges. Does our legal framework permit such things? Do we have to enact new legislation or is it possible to get the legislation through parliament? I remember in Cambodia they had foreign tribunals that was a failure. Some people criticized this for being a waste of UN money.”

You know our judges are literate people, educated, if they are allowed to work without telephone calls, intimidation and various other methods, they will work

Again, I have sat around a different fire and heard a different reaction to foreign judges, treating all anticipated problems as so much gristle to be cut away to reach the metaphorical meat- a solution to the credibility issues which would plague a purely domestic judicial process.

 “Hybrid as given in the OHCHR report suggests something in which foreign judges will be nominated by them like in Cambodia and Lebanon. We won’t have that. We won’t have UNHRC nominating our judges. The choice is ours. It won’t be hybrid in that sense. It will be hybrid in the sense that we will be bringing in international expertise to give credibility to this mechanism. I am with it,” Godfrey Gunatilleke had said sitting around our interview fire.

We won’t have UNHRC nominating our Judges. The choice is ours. It won’t be hybrid in that sense. It will be hybrid in the sense that we will be bringing in international expertise to give credibility to this mechanism

As I sit around this current fire and listen to Mr. Palihakkara, I am conflicted. How to break the deadlock between these two stances? What’s the clinching argument? What’s so wrong with foreign judges? If they will help bridge the trust deficit why not have them? What harm can they do, what danger do they inherently carry that no country will have them voluntarily? Can the trust deficit be addressed without incurring this sort of danger?

Yes, according to Mr. Palihakkara, if we are up to showing that our judiciary is independent, “we can take a firm stand that our judiciary meets international standards. So we don’t need foreign judges” If we don’t take this sort of firm stand, the ambassador cautions, “our local human rights problems get internationalised. Foreign judges mean you are internationalizing it.”

Yet resolution A/HRC/RES/30/1 co-sponsored and presumably containing text pre-negotiated and agreed upon by Sri Lanka, “Welcomes the recognition by the Government of Sri Lanka that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and to build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, notes with appreciation the proposal of the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for their integrity and impartiality; and also affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators;”

 According to Mr. Palihakkara however, this resolution does not render us optionless by “mandating” foreign judges. “It’s not obligatory. It says having foreign assistance and judges would be important. So the option is left here”

The resolution being co-sponsored, doesn’t it mean that Sri Lanka too has affirmed the importance of the participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism of foreign judges? It would appear not, to judge by the curt repudiation of the idea by the President of Sri Lanka in his  January 21, 2016 interview with BBC Sinhala service, just months after Resolution 30/1. Displaying decisive body language and barely concealed impatience with even the suggestion of international participation or foreign judges in investigating HR violation allegations, the President stated that of the proposed measures by the UN HR Commission, they have to consider which would be in the government’s power to adopt and which they wouldn’t be able to implement. Admitting the government’s clear acceptance of investigations into allegations of HR violations, the SL Head of State was categorical that ensuring fairness in such investigations should be done within a domestic judicial process, in accordance with SL constitution and without the participation of foreign judges, because they had no intention of importing foreign judges to ensure fairness. He will never agree to such a thing. He has faith in the Sri Lankan judiciary and the investigating bodies and officers within the terms of the constitution and a domestic mechanism. Even seeming to reject foreign investigative and forensic assistance, the President denied the need to import anyone from anywhere else.

There are three things to remember about Resolution 30/1. It resulted from a collaborative approach; its text was worked out between USA, new government of Sri Lanka and other stakeholders, from a first draft by USA; and it was co-sponsored by SL.

SL seems to say, we are within our rights to reject those few recommendations that we were unhappy about at the time of the collaboration. As a resolution is not a treaty, we didn’t feel it was necessary to make a ‘delete-or else’ fuss about every point in the collaborated text

The SL interpretation of ‘collaboration and co-sponsoring’ seems to be that there is no need for a collaborator to endorse and take responsibility for every point in the final collaborative/co-authored text. As long as the majority of the points are endorsed and complied with by the co-sponsoring, collaborating party, a collaborator’s/co-sponsor’s obligations can be considered fulfilled. As all collaborated texts are essentially compromises, SL seems to say, we are within our rights to reject those few recommendations that we were unhappy about at the time of the collaboration. As a resolution is not a treaty, we didn’t feel it was necessary to make a ‘delete-or else’ fuss about every point in the collaborated text. What we meant by affirming our collaboration as a co-sponsor is simply that overall, on the whole, for the most part, we are with Resolution 30/1, while retaining the right to disassociate ourselves from the unacceptable bits.

Evidently, countries have their ways of working within the UN system. Palihakkara tells us about Cuba, “USA was trying to harass Cuba on the human rights count but they fought successfully against the UN resolutions because they put in place in their own country, very efficient judicial and law enforcement measures. And eventually the USA had to withdraw those resolutions from the Human Rights Council.”

Sri Lanka’s difference I think to myself, seems to be that we don’t fight against the USA led UN resolutions. We collaborate with them and co-sponsor them so that when and if, we, like Cuba, put in place in our own country, very efficient judicial and law enforcement measures, USA can feel a warm glow that it was a partner, a stakeholder in that positive transformation. But then, didn’t USA feel a warm glow when Cuba was doing that, that it was USA resolutions that were driving positive change in Cuba? Apparently not. They would just have felt defeated with every resolution they had to withdraw.

Ambassador Palihakkara tells us that when he left New York in 2009, there was a USA sponsored resolution in the UN General Assembly, proposing an embargo against Cuba that only four out of the 193 UN member states supported. Cuba achieved this according to Mr. Palihakkara through the stance: “In our country, we may be poor but we don’t have torture, people don’t disappear. You can come and see.”

If we are ever able to take up such a stance, we won’t have defeated Resolution 30/1, we wouldn’t have defeated USA. But what will such ‘no defeating’ entail? The simplest way to make USA feel a warm glow could be to just do as it wishes. Is asserting our sovereignty within a collaborative approach harder than in a confrontational approach, where SL like Cuba would seek to defeat a UN resolution by proving positive things? These are things I don’t ask Mr. Palihakkara because it’s time to go home.

Foreign Policy: The World Wants You to Think Like a Realist


May 31, 2018

Foreign Policy: The World Wants You to Think Like a Realist

From Europe to Iran to North Korea, the world doesn’t make sense anymore — unless you put all your illusions aside.

By Stephen M. Walt

 Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are pictured at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Oslo December 11, 2016. (TERJE BENDIKSBY/AFP/Getty Images)

Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are pictured at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Oslo December 11, 2016. (TERJE BENDIKSBY/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump has shown himself to be many things thus far — willful, vain, dishonest, impulsive, narcissistic, ignorant, etc. — but “rational” and “strategic” aren’t words that leap to mind when contemplating his foreign policy. Realism also emphasizes external factors, such as balances of power and geography, and downplays the role of individual leaders. But the Trump Presidency is an eloquent and worrisome reminder of the damage that individual leaders can do and especially when they are convinced that they are “the only one that matters.”–Stephen M. Walt

 

 

One of the ironies of contemporary U.S. thinking about foreign policy is the odd status of realism. On the one hand, realist theory remains a staple of college teaching on international relations (along with many other approaches), and government officials often claim that their actions are based on some sort of “realist” approach. But Washington remains for the most part a realism-free zone, with few genuine realists in positions of influence. Moreover, the realist perspective is almost entirely absent from the commanding heights of U.S. punditry. This column, and the consistently insightful writings of people such as Paul Pillar or Jacob Heilbrunn, does not make up for realism’s exclusion from the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal.

 

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Instead of relying on realism, both Republicans and Democrats tend to view foreign policy through the lens of liberal idealism. Rather than see world politics as an arena where security is scarce and major powers are forced to contend whether they wish to or not, America’s foreign-policy mavens are quick to divide the world into virtuous allies (usually democracies) and evil adversaries (always some sort of dictatorship) and to assume that when things go badly, it is because a wicked foreign leader (Saddam Hussein, Ali Khamenei, Vladimir Putin, Muammar al-Qaddafi, etc.) is greedy, aggressive, or irrational. When friendly states object to something the (virtuous) United States is doing, U.S. leaders tend to assume that critics just don’t understand their noble aims or are jealous of America’s success.

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I’ll concede that the Trump Presidency presents a particular challenge for realists. It’s not easy to reconcile Donald Trump’s incoherent and bumbling approach to foreign affairs with the idea that states pursue national interests in a more or less rational or strategic fashion. Trump has shown himself to be many things thus far — willful, vain, dishonest, impulsive, narcissistic, ignorant, etc. — but “rational” and “strategic” aren’t words that leap to mind when contemplating his foreign policy. Realism also emphasizes external factors, such as balances of power and geography, and downplays the role of individual leaders. But the Trump Presidency is an eloquent and worrisome reminder of the damage that individual leaders can do and especially when they are convinced that they are “the only one that matters.

Nonetheless, Trump’s singular incompetence isn’t sufficient reason to toss realism aside completely. For one thing, realism still helps us understand how Trump can get away with all this meshugas: The United States is still so powerful and secure that it can do a lot of dumb things and suffer only modest losses. More importantly, realism remains an extremely useful guide to a lot of things that have happened in the recent past or that are happening today. And as Trump is proving weekly, leaders who ignore these insights inevitably make lots of dumb mistakes.

In short, it is still highly useful to think like a realist. Let me explain why. Realism has a long history and many variants, but its core rests on a straightforward set of ideas. As the name implies, realism tries to explain world politics as they really are, rather than describe how they ought to be. For realists, power is the centerpiece of political life: Although other factors sometimes play a role, the key to understanding politics lies in focusing on who has power and what they are doing with it. The Athenians’ infamous warning to the Melians captures this perfectly: “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” Quentin Tarantino couldn’t have put it any better.

For realists, states are the key actors in the international system. There is no central authority that can protect states from one another, so each state must rely upon its own resources and strategies to survive. Security is a perennial concern — even for powerful states — and states tend to worry a lot about who is weaker or stronger and what power trends appear to be. Cooperation is far from impossible in such a world — indeed, at times cooperating with others is essential to survival — but it is always somewhat fragile. Realists maintain that states will react to threats first by trying to “pass the buck” (i.e., getting someone else to deal with the emerging danger), and if that fails, they will try to balance against the threat, either by seeking allies or by building up their own capabilities.

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Realism isn’t the only way to think about international affairs, of course, and there are a number of alternative perspectives and theories that can help us understand different aspects of the modern world. But if you do think like a realist — at least part of the time — many confusing aspects of world politics become easier to understand.

If you think like a realist, for example, you’ll understand why China’s rise is a critical event and likely to be a source of conflict with the United States (and others). In a world where states have to protect themselves, the two most powerful states will eye each other warily and compete to make sure that they don’t fall behind or become dangerously vulnerable to the other. Even when war is avoided, intense security competition is likely to result.

And by the way, thinking like a realist helps you understand why China is no longer committed to Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “peaceful rise.” That approach made sense when China was weaker, and it fooled plenty of Westerners into thinking China could be inveigled into being a responsible stakeholder that would meekly embrace various institutions and arrangements created by others back when China was weak. But realists understand that a more powerful China would eventually want to modify any features that were not in China’s interest, as Beijing has begun to do in recent years. Bottom line: Thinking like a realist is essential if you want to understand Sino-American relations.

If you think like a realist, you wouldn’t be surprised that the United States has repeatedly used military force in distant lands over the past 25 years and especially after 9/11. Why? For one simple reason: Nobody could prevent it. Americans were also convinced their global role was indispensable and that they had the right, the responsibility, and the wisdom to interfere all over the world. But America’s dominant position was the permissive condition that made this overweening ambition seem feasible, at least for a while. As Kenneth Waltz warned way back in 1993: “One may hope that America’s internal preoccupations will produce not an isolationist policy, which has become impossible, but a forbearance that will give other countries at long last the chance to deal with their own problems and make their own mistakes. But I would not bet on it.” Good realist that he was, Waltz understood that the “vice to which great powers easily succumb in a multipolar world is inattention; in a bipolar world, overreaction; in a unipolar world, overextension.” And that’s precisely what happened.

If you think like a realist, the crisis in Ukraine looks rather different than the typical Western version of events. Western accounts typically blame Putin for most of the trouble, but realists understand that major powers are always sensitive about their borders and are likely to react defensively if other great powers start encroaching on these regions. Ever heard of the Monroe Doctrine? In the case of Ukraine, the United States and its European allies had been expanding NATO steadily eastward (violating pledges made to Soviet leaders when Germany reunified) and ignoring repeated warnings from Moscow. By 2013, the United States and European Union were making a concerted effort to pull Ukraine into closer alignment with the West and openly interfering in Ukraine’s domestic political processes. Because the Obama administration did not think like realists, however, it was blindsided when Putin seized Crimea and derailed the EU/U.S. effort. Putin’s response was neither legal nor legitimate nor admirable, but it wasn’t surprising either. It is equally unsurprising that these events alarmed the Europeans and prompted NATO to shore up its defenses in Eastern Europe, precisely as a realist would expect.

Thinking like a realist can also help you understand why the EU is in trouble. The entire EU project was designed to transcend nationalism and subordinate state interests within broader supranational institutions. Its architects hoped the separate national identities and interests that had torn Europe apart repeatedly would fade over time and a broad pan-European identity would supplant them. European unity was facilitated by the Cold War because the Soviet threat gave Western Europe ample incentive to cooperate, gave the Soviets’ Eastern European satellites an ideal to aspire to, and kept the “American pacifier” on the continent. But once the Cold War was over, nationalism returned with a vengeance and especially after the euro crisis hit. Suddenly, populations wanted their elected officials not to save Europe but to save them. Despite herculean efforts by a number of European leaders and EU officials, these centrifugal tendencies seem to be getting worse, as the Brexit decision, the recent elections in Italy, and the resurgent nationalism in Poland and Hungary all attest. Those who hoped that European integration would prove irreversible have trouble understanding how their noble experiment went awry, but realists don’t.

If you think like a realist, you might not be quite so outraged by the support that Iran and Syria gave the anti-American insurgency in Iraq after 2003. You might not like it, but you wouldn’t find their conduct surprising. Their response was classic balance of power behavior because the United States had just overthrown Saddam Hussein and the Bush administration had made it clear that Syria and Iran were next on its hit list. It made good strategic sense for Damascus and Tehran to do whatever they could to keep the United States bogged down in Iraq so that Washington couldn’t reload the shotgun and come after them. Americans have every reason to be upset by what these states did, but if more U.S. officials thought like realists, they would have expected it from the get-go.

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John Bolton’s Logic: War is Peace. He needs a new pair of glasses

And if you think like a realist, it is obvious why North Korea has gone to enormous lengths to acquire a nuclear deterrent and obvious why a country such as Iran was interested in becoming a latent nuclear weapons state as well. These states were deeply at odds with the world’s most powerful country, and prominent U.S. officials kept saying that the only solution was to topple these regimes and replace them with leaders more to their liking. Never mind that regime change rarely works as intended; the more important point is that any government facing a threat like that is going to try to protect itself.

Nuclear weapons aren’t good for blackmail or conquest, but they are a very effective way to deter more powerful states from trying to overthrow you with military force. And you’d think Americans would understand this, given that the U.S. government thinks it needs thousands of nuclear weapons in order to be secure, despite its favorable geographic position and overwhelming conventional superiority. If U.S. leaders think like that, is it any wonder that some weaker and more vulnerable powers conclude that having a few nukes might make them more secure? And is it so surprising that they might be reluctant to give them up in exchange for assurances or promises that might easily be reversed or withdrawn? Someone really should explain this logic to John Bolton.

Thinking like a realist also helps you understand why states with radically different political systems often act in surprisingly similar ways. To take an obvious example, the United States and Soviet Union could not have been more different in terms of their domestic orders, but their international behavior was much the same. Each led vast alliance networks, toppled governments they didn’t like, assassinated a number of foreign leaders, built tens of thousand of nuclear weapons (deployed on missiles, bombers, and submarines), intervened in far-flung lands, tried to convert other societies to their preferred ideology, and did what they could to bring the other down without blowing up the world. Why did they behave in such similar fashion? Because in an anarchic world, each had little choice but to compete with the other, lest it fall behind and become vulnerable to the other’s predations.

Last but not least, if you think like a realist, you’re likely to be skeptical about the ambitious schemes that idealists keep dreaming up to bring an end to conflict, injustice, inequality, and other bad things. Striving to build a safer and more peaceful world is admirable, but realism reminds us that the ambitious efforts to remake world politics always create unintended consequences and rarely deliver the promised results. It also reminds that even allies fear unchecked power and will have misgivings whenever the United States tries to run the world. If you think like a realist, in short, you are more likely to act with a degree of prudence, and you’ll be less likely to see opponents as purely evil (or see one’s own country as wholly virtuous) and less likely to embark on open-ended moral crusades. Ironically, if more people thought like realists, the prospects for peace would go up.

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Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard University.

NY Times Book Review: Ronan Farrow–War on Peace


May 12, 2018

NY Times Book Review

WAR ON PEACE
The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence
By Ronan Farrow
Illustrated. 392 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. $27.95.

In 2010, just before Thanksgiving, American foreign-policy makers flew into a panic. The United States government had gotten word that an outfit called WikiLeaks was preparing to release an enormous cache of secret diplomatic cables, in coordination with teams of journalists from this and other newspapers. At the time, I was a policy hand in the State Department. It fell to me and my colleagues to dutifully craft apologies on behalf of our bosses, whose sensitive communications and private insults — speculation about, say, a foreign leader’s mental aptitude or mysterious wealth — were about to become public. They, meanwhile, confronted weightier concerns, scrambling to anticipate the coming fallout. Would missions and sources be compromised? Would activists be exposed to persecution? Would anyone ever talk to American officials again?

Almost no one, however, anticipated what would prove to be one of the more lasting consequences of the leak: surprised admiration for American diplomats. “My personal opinion of the State Department has gone up several notches,” the British historian and journalist Timothy Garton Ash wrote. He compared one veteran ambassador’s prose to Evelyn Waugh’s, and deemed other analyses “astute,” “unsentimental” and “hilarious.” Beneath their “dandruffy” exteriors, he concluded after browsing the classified offerings, these diplomats were sharper, and funnier, than they looked.

Ronan Farrow aims to achieve a similar effect in “War on Peace.” At a time when the Trump administration has called for gutting the State Department’s budget and filled foreign-policy jobs with military officers, Farrow draws on both government experience and fresh reporting to offer a lament for the plight of America’s diplomats — and an argument for why it matters. “Classic, old-school diplomacy,” he observes, is “frustrating” and involves “a lot of jet lag.” Yet his wry voice and storytelling take work that is often grueling and dull and make it seem, if not always exciting, at least vividly human. A Foreign Service officer’s hairstyle is “diplomat’s mullet: peace in the front, war in the back”; an Afghan strongman’s choice of décor is “warlord chic,” with “leatherette La-Z-Boy recliners” and “a giant tank full of sharks.”

 

With his knack for getting high-level, on-the-record access — he recently shared a Pulitzer Prize for his New Yorker reporting on Harvey Weinstein’s abuses — Farrow managed to interview every living Secretary of State, up to and including Rex Tillerson, in his waning days presiding over a department “increasingly unmanned and cut down to size.” In a sense, Farrow is telling a story with a well-known ending but a surprise beginning. Much has been made of Trump’s disregard for diplomats. But the disproportionate flow of resources to military and intelligence solutions has been going on much longer, at least since 9/11. “In many of America’s engagements around the world,” Farrow argues, “military alliances have now eclipsed the kind of civilian diplomacy that once counterbalanced them, with disastrous results.” He traces those results through fights over Afghanistan strategy, as well as through less prominent policy debates — like the case of a massacre by an American-backed Afghan militant (currently serving as his country’s vice president).

At the heart of Farrow’s book is the time he spent as an aide to the legendary diplomat Richard Holbrooke, then a special representative working on Afghanistan and Pakistan while longing for a bigger job. Recounting his arrival at the State Department early in the Obama administration, Farrow offers himself as the ingénue, poised for an education in the ways of Washington. (Farrow and I served in the department at the same time but never worked together directly.) What followed was part “West Wing,” part “Veep.” His job interview with Holbrooke began in a fluorescent-lit office, continued into an elevator and a meeting with the secretary of state, then into a taxi, then into a bathroom. “What about negotiations with the Taliban?” Holbrooke asked while urinating, Farrow just outside the door.

Richard Holbrooke, right, with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Afghanistan, 2009.  Credit Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

 

 

Holbrooke was a larger-than-life figure, by his own willful design. “There were reminders of his view of our place in history everywhere,” Farrow notes of their offices. By that point, Holbrooke’s place in history was already assured, thanks to his success in negotiating the Dayton Peace Agreement that had ended war in Bosnia a decade and a half earlier. But he was intent on earning at least one more entry, by repeating a version of that diplomatic feat with the deteriorating American war in Afghanistan. To that end, he was “grasping, relentless” and “oblivious to social graces in the pursuit of his goals.” When Farrow repeatedly defied an instruction, Holbrooke erupted into a tirade — “I know you think you’re special. I know you think you have a destiny” — that ended only when an assistant started weeping. Yet he also inspired total devotion in a staff of acolytes, making them equally relentless in pursuit of their goals.

One part of Farrow’s education was prosaic. The biggest obstacle to Holbrooke’s ambitions, for himself and his diplomacy, was that the President and senior White House aides just didn’t like him. “Beneath the sweep of history,” Farrow reflects, “was a small human struggle, of ego and age and fear.” So in an administration that promised to privilege diplomacy over force, philosophical convergence was undercut by personal animosities between the self-dramatizing Holbrooke and the “no drama Obama” White House. “What began as whispers of malcontent from Obama’s inner circle about Holbrooke’s antics eventually turned into a three-ring circus of humiliation,” Farrow contends. He shares the view of other Holbrooke advisers that their key diplomatic aim — peace talks with the Taliban — got short shrift in overall strategy as a result.

Ultimately, all policy making is personal. When Holbrooke died suddenly in December 2010, his heart giving out after months of punishing travel, progress toward those talks had barely begun.

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But Farrow sees the rift that left Holbrooke out in the cold as about more than just personalities. Holbrooke set out to overcome what he characterized as “mil-think” — the military-driven logic that shaped the American approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan — and, no matter the administration’s supposed preferences, lost. The sidelining of Holbrooke, in Farrow’s analysis, was of a piece with a more general sidelining of diplomacy amid a continuing “militarization of foreign policy.” Holbrooke “had spent his final days alarmed at the dominance of generals in Obama’s Afghanistan review,” Farrow writes. Under Trump, this phenomenon was expanded “almost to the point of parody.”

The problem with “militarization” is not that military leaders are especially intent on using force. In fact, they are often more reticent than their civilian counterparts to resort to it, with those most implicated in fighting a war slower to advocate for one. (For recent examples, look at debates over military action in Iraq and Libya.) Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s line — “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition” — has been endlessly (and fruitlessly) quoted to the Trump White House over the past year.

The distortions are more subtle. Even when a stated policy aims to balance diplomatic and military concerns, how the message is delivered matters. If the diplomatic piece comes via a State Department official who arrives alone, flying coach and rolling his own overnight bag, and the military piece comes via a uniformed officer who arrives in his own airplane, with an entourage and eight or nine figures’ worth of security assistance in hand, it’s not hard to guess which is likely to come through more clearly to foreign leaders. And if investment in diplomatic tools is erratic and inadequate, those tools lose their effectiveness, giving policymakers little choice but to resort to military alternatives. Farrow lays out the vicious cycle: “American leadership no longer valued diplomats, which led to the kind of cuts that made diplomats less valuable. Rinse, repeat.”

Yet real as these dynamics are, Farrow’s account of them comes with some omissions that skew the broader picture. Even while Holbrooke’s push was stalled, other diplomatic processes were just getting underway, against long odds. Only in the final pages, in the context of Trump’s threats to dismantle the Iran deal, does Farrow get into the years of diplomacy that yielded that agreement. He similarly has little to say about the other diplomatic accomplishments of the Obama years — the opening to Cuba, the Paris climate accords — let alone the diplomatic efforts that ultimately failed. (Remember the Russia reset?)

Those omissions are in themselves telling, since they reflect a deeper challenge that reinforces the dynamics Farrow deplores. Even the most towering diplomatic achievements are at best partial victories; what look like necessary compromises at the negotiating table become ripe targets for political attack when diplomats come home and present uncertain promises and half-measures to a public that prefers silver bullets and sweeping principles. Reflecting on the Iran deal, one of the great career American diplomats of recent years, William Burns, reminds Farrow that “diplomacy was always going to produce something short of a perfect solution.” Americans rarely appreciate imperfect solutions, at least until they’re gone.

Daniel Kurtz-Phelan is the executive editor of Foreign Affairs. His new book is “The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945–1947.”

 

Fareed Zakaria on Mike Pompeo


March 19, 2018

On Mike Pompeo–The New Man in The State Department has to handle Iran and North Korea

By Dr.Fareed Zakaria
Mike Pompeo has a crisis to handle — even before the North Korea summit

Image result for Mike PompeoFareed Zakaria: Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”

 

If confirmed as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo will arrive at a State Department that has been battered by proposed budget cuts, hollowed out by resignations and vacancies, and neutered by President Trump’s impulsive and personal decision-making style. But Pompeo’s most immediate challenge will not be rebuilding the department and restoring morale; it will be dealing with an acute foreign policy crisis that is largely of the President’s own making — the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Pompeo will have to tackle a genuine foreign policy challenge soon. Trump has agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un before the end of May. This could be a promising development, defusing the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across Asia. Yet before Trump even sits down with Kim at the negotiating table to discuss a nuclear deal, the administration will have to decide how to handle the preexisting deal with Tehran.

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Trump has already announced that the United States will no longer abide by the Iran nuclear pact unless European leaders agree to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.” (And from the outset, he has been cheered in his hard-line posturing by Pompeo.) European nations seem unwilling to endorse more than cosmetic changes, and Iran has flatly refused to renegotiate. That means by May 12 the United States is set to pull out of the agreement, which could lead Iran to do the same and restart its nuclear program. This would happen at the very same time as the summit with North Korea — when the United States will surely be trying to convince North Korea of the benefits of signing a similar agreement.

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To understand the virtues of the Iran deal, recall that a quarter-century ago, the United States was negotiating a nuclear accord with Pyongyang. At that point, North Korea had a nuclear program but no nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration was trying to get the regime to freeze its program, agree to some rollbacks and allow intrusive inspections. But the accord that was ultimately reached was far more limited than hoped for. The inspections process was weak, and the North Koreans cheated.

The Iranians in 2015 also did not have nuclear weapons (and insisted they had no intention of ever making them). Still, the nuclear deal required them to scale back significant aspects of their program, dismantling 13,000 centrifuges, giving up 98 percent of their enriched uranium and effectively shutting down their plutonium reactor at Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency has cameras and inspectors in Iran at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle — from mines to labs to enrichment facilities. The IAEA attests that Tehran has abided by its end of the deal. Even Pompeo himself has conceded as much.

The Iran accord is not perfect, but it has stabilized a dangerous and spiraling situation in the Middle East. Were the deal to unravel, an already simmering region would get much hotter. (The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, recently affirmed that his kingdom would go nuclear if Iran did.) And, again, this would all be happening just as the Trump administration would be trying to convince the North Koreans to agree to limits, freezes, rollbacks and inspections of its own nuclear program. Why would Kim sign a deal while he watches the United States renege on the last one it signed?

The tragedy here is that this is an entirely self-inflicted crisis. There was already enough instability in the world that the administration did not need to create more. Pompeo should recognize that his job as secretary of state will be to solve problems, not produce them, and he should preserve the Iran accord and spend his time on North Korea. But that would still leave a considerable challenge regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. There, too, the administration’s position — and his — has been maximalist, vowing to accept nothing less than the total denuclearization of North Korea. But that’s a negotiating position that can and should be adjusted over time, depending on North Korean behavior.

Pompeo should take a page from his boss’s book. Trump has reversed course on issue after issue, often with little explanation. He declared that NATO was obsolete only to say later that it was not. He promised to label China a currency manipulator and then decided against it. He insisted that talking to North Korea would be a waste of time and then eagerly announced that he would. And who knows, maybe Trump understands the public’s inattention and mood better than most of us. In any case, whatever Pompeo said about the Iran deal months ago is now ancient history. He should simply declare that right now, under the circumstances, the deal is worth preserving.

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There are significant costs to America’s credibility and reputation if Washington keeps reversing its positions on core foreign policy issues. Yet there are greater costs to stubbornly persisting with the wrong policy. So, Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group