October 30, 2014

The Cyber Bridge to Improved India-U.S. Cooperation



Posted by Lisa Curtis on October 28, 2014

  
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have developed a strong rapport with U.S. President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Washington. In a Sept.  
  

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have developed a strong rapport with U.S. President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Washington. In a Sept. 30 column for the Washington Post, the two leaders mapped out an ambitious agenda for increased collaboration on a number of issues. Bureaucrats in both countries now assume the responsibility of bringing that shared vision to life. 

One area particularly ripe for deeper engagement is cyber security - an emerging national security issue for both countries, and one in which the level and the scope of the threat is fast expanding.

India boasts the world's third-largest population of online users, and Indians' increasing reliance on the internet leaves the country increasingly vulnerable to cyber warfare. The threat comes from criminal hackers, terrorist networks, and nation-states conducting espionage or trying to disrupt critical infrastructure. Cyber warfare can take an enormous toll on commercial activity, military readiness, and public safety. Guarding against increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks has therefore become a focal point of Indian and U.S. national security strategy.  

India was among the biggest victims of GhostNet, a global cyber espionage campaign that targeted governmental, research and military organizations. Beyond this campaign, Chinese espionage likely wrought India's most serious cyber breaches, including the March 2013 hacking of India's Defense Research and Development Organization's computer systems. In June 2012, cyber attacks were reported on the systems of the Indian Navy's Eastern Command, which is responsible for maritime activities in the South China Sea. 

Further, the internet helps militant groups spread propaganda, communicate with one another, and recruit members. Washington and Delhi share this concern, but the Indian domestic terrorist group Indian Mujahideen (IM) is particularly adept at using social media to communicate and recruit. IM members reportedly use Facebook and other chat sites to exchange cryptic messages while relying on proxy internet providers and software to mask their locations.  

Overcoming Suspicions

While the U.S.-India engagement on cyber security issues stretches back more than a decade, concrete cooperation remains minimal. There are specific reasons for this. 

A 2006 spying scandal that involved U.S. and Indian officials participating in a cyber security forum dampened cooperation for several years. Indian officials have since remained highly suspicious of U.S. motives and believe that Washington will look for ways to exploit any cyber security cooperation for the purposes of its own intelligence gathering. 

A recently-published study by the Heritage Foundation and New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, titled Indo-U.S. Cooperation on Internet Governance and Cyber Security, argues that the growing challenges pertaining to global cyber security demand that India and the United States build a foundation of mutual trust and cooperation on intelligence and counterterrorism.  

The report highlights the need to expand Indo-U.S. cyber security dialogue to cover the international dimensions of the problem. The bilateral dialogue has so far focused narrowly on technical issues. The authors acknowledge, however, that the vast difference in cyber capabilities of both countries - as well as deep divisions within the United States over whether to pursue unilateral or multilateral approaches - hinder their ability to forge a consensus on international cyber norms and regulations. 

Dr. Raja Mohan, an Indian strategic thinker, notes the likely tension between India's tradition of favoring multilateralism and the imperative to build its domestic cyber security capabilities. In other words, Mohan writes, "India's national interests (on cyber security issues) may not be aligned with the collective positions of the South."

Another author of the report, Dr. Steven Bucci, Heritage's director of foreign and national security policy studies, makes a strong case for rejecting a regulatory approach. Instead, he recommends developing a legislative framework that "harnesses the power of U.S. and Indian industry and ingenuity, while safeguarding the freedoms and privacy of individual citizens." 

Building on Domestic Progress

India has begun to address its cyber security challenges in a serious way. The Indian government published its first ever National Cyber Security Policy in July 2013. The policy emphasizes research and development of indigenous security technology and enhanced public-private partnerships. It further encourages private organizations and companies to adopt more effective IT regulations and infrastructure that conform with international best practices, and it calls for developing a workforce of 500,000 cyber specialists over the next five years. 
To further boost cyber security, India recently set up the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre, responsible for protecting assets in sectors like defense, finance, energy and telecommunications. Still, U.S. spending on cyber security outstrips Indian spending by 100 times. 

The United States and India have much to gain from deepening their cooperation in cyber security. If both sides work to craft a unified approach to the challenges facing the cyber security world, it would signal that the digital leaders are ready to take on the responsibility to craft a more secure. yet more open, cyberspace. 
Lisa Curtis is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center.

October 29, 2014

Trends in Student Radicalization Across University Campuses in Afghanistan

Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies
 
AISS Releases "Trends in Student Radicalization Across University Campuses in Afghanistan" Research Report

AISS is honoured to share with you its the most recent research report, named as, "Trends in Student Radicalization Across University Campuses in Afghanistan". 

This report divulges interesting yet remarkable findings about the trend of radicalization among university students in Afghanistan. Based on this report, the students are concerned about the prospects of their post-gratuation follow-on careers more than ideological ambitions; however, some differentiated patterns of radicalization can be noted in some particular universities across the country. Moreover, this report advances the fact that universities have rather weak role in shaping the radical views of the students than the charged political climate and the readily available opportunity to mobilize quickly. 

To read the full report, click on the link below:

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff Re-elected


 
Very little notice has been taken by India's ill-informed media on international affairs about the re-election of Pres of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, whose pictures with the recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, holding each other's hand were regularly flashed recently on our TV channels during the Indian PM's visit to Brazil for the Brics Summit and other bilateral and multilateral meetings.
 
The re-election of Dilma Rousseff is a major event signaling the well-being and strength of the nations opposed to the overwhelming neoliberal US and Europe, led empires. Brazil is a huge country in Latin America and full of resources .Along with half a dozen other Latin American States Brazil has managed to get out of the clutches of US imperialism and blatant exploitation. Dilma's victory is not only important for Latin America, but also for all formerly colonized and exploited nations of the South. Brazil would remain a keystone in the creation of economic and monetary bloc of the Brics states to which hopefully other oppressed and exploited nations would also be admitted sooner than later.
 
So three cheers to Dilma and the electorate of Brazil, who in spite of Western propaganda and the usual Yankee tricks has been re-elected for the next four years. Hopefully she will be able to consolidate her position and policies against the marauding neo-liberal imperialist bankers, financiers and corporate interests of USA and European states.
 
After a brief write-up on Dilma Rousseff, I have great pleasure in reproducing below an excellent write-up on the elections in Brazil by my favourite journalist Pepe Escobar, who happens to be a Brazilian.
 
Dilma Vana Rousseff (born 14 December 1947) is the 36th and current President of Brazil. She is the first woman to hold the office. She was previously the Chief of Staff of the President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from 2005 to 2010.

 

 The daughter of a Bulgarian entrepreneur, Rousseff was raised in an upper middle class household in Belo Horizonte. She became a socialist during her youth, and following the 1964 coup d'état joined various left-wing and Marxist urban guerrilla groups that fought against the military dictatorship. Rousseff was eventually captured and jailed between 1970 and 1972, where she was reportedly tortured.

 

After her release, Rousseff rebuilt her life in Porto Alegre with Carlos Araújo, who would be her partner for 30 years. Both helped found the Democratic Labour Party (PDT) in Rio Grande do Sul, participating in several of the party's electoral campaigns. She became the Secretary of the Treasury of the City of Porto Alegre in the Alceu Collares Administration, and later the Secretary of Energy of the State of Rio Grande do Sul under both the Collares and Olívio Dutra  Administrations. In 2000, after an internal dispute in the Dutra cabinet, she left the PDT and joined the Workers' Party (PT).

 

In 2002, Rousseff joined the committee responsible for the energy policy of presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who, after winning the election, invited her to become Minister of Energy. In 2005, a political crisis triggered by a corruption scandal led to the resignation of Chief of Staff José Dirceu. Rousseff took over the post, remaining in office until 31 March 2010, when she stepped down in order to run for President. She was elected in a run-off on 31 October 2010, beating the candidate of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB), José Serra and re-elected on 26 October 2014 with a narrow second round victory over Aécio Neves, also of the PSDB.

 

In her victory speech after she won the closest Brazilian presidential election in more than a century.
Dilma Rousseff said that she recognized the need for change and added that her second term would be characterized by dialogue, and that her priority would be political reform – particularly campaign financing and greater representation for women.
 
"Every election has to be seen as a form of change, especially for us who live in one of the largest democracies in the world," she said. "The heat released in the dispute must be transformed into constructive energy."
 
This humble message sounded like a sensible way to reunite a nation after a divisive and often bitter campaign. But it was also remarkably similar to the conciliatory language the president used last year to placate the million-plus protesters who took to the streets in a wave of demonstrations against poor public services, corruption and police brutality.
 
Back then, her promises to reform the political system quickly proved illusionary. Within days, congress in effect killed the plan. The limits on the president's powers were all too apparent.
This time, she is hoping to bypass that obstacle by calling for a plebiscite. "With a referendum, we will find the power and the legitimacy required at this time of transformation," she said.
 
A meaningful revision of the Brazilian system of governance is long overdue. Although this young democracy has been vibrant since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, the system is entwined with social inequality, impunity and rampant corruption.
 
There is a widespread desire for a cleaner, more efficient government, but it has long proved elusive. Argelina Figueiredo, a professor at Rio de Janeiro State University, said: "The government needs to go slowly. They are always proposing political reform, but nothing passes. It's all talk." If anything, the hurdles seem even higher than at the start of her first term in 2010.
 
Let us be optimistic.
 
K.Gajendra Singh, 28 October, 2014.Delhi

THE ROVING EYE
And the loser in Brazil is - neoliberalism
By Pepe Escobar 
Atimes 28 Oct 2014
 
Sun, sex, samba, carnival and at least until the World Cup hammering by Germany, the "land of football". And don't forget "vibrant democracy". Even as it enjoys one of the highest soft power quotients around the world, Brazil remains submerged by cliches. 

"Vibrant democracy" certainly lived up to its billing as President Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Worker's Party (PT) was re-elected this Sunday in a tight run-off against opposition candidate Aecio Neves of the Social Democracy Party of Brazil (PSDB). 

Yet another cliche would rule this was the victory of "state-centric" policies against "structural reforms". Or the victory of "high social



spending" against a "pro-business" approach - which implies business as the privileged enemy of social equality. 

Exit cliches. Enter a cherished national motto: "Brazil is not for beginners". 

Indeed. Brazil's complexities boggle the mind. It starts with arguably the key, multi-layered message a divided country sent to winner Dilma Rousseff. We are part of a growing middle class. We are proud to be part of an increasingly less unequal nation. But we want social services to keep improving. We want more investment in education. We want inflation under control (at the moment, it's not). We support a very serious anti-corruption drive (here's where Dilma's Brazil meets Xi Jinping's China). And we want to keep improving on the economic success of the past decade. 

Rousseff seems to get the message. The question is how she will be able to deliver - in a continental-sized nation suffering from appalling education standards, with Brazilian manufacturing largely uncompetitive in global markets, and with corruption run amok. 

Those ignorant, arrogant elites
Brazil is now mired in dismal GDP growth (0.3%). Just blaming the global crisis doesn't cut it; South American neighbors Peru (3.6%) and Colombia (4.8%) are definitely going places in 2014. 

And yet the numbers are not that shabby. Job creation is up. Unemployment is down (only 5.4%). Investment in social infrastructure is picking up. From 2002 to 2014, the minimum wage more than tripled. GDP per capita is up, reaching roughly $9,000 while the gini coefficient of social inequality (2012 data) is down. 

Industrial production is back to the same level before the 2008 financial crisis. Brazil paid all its debts to the IMF. The proportion of debt in relation to GDP is falling - reaching only 33.8% in 2013. Workers have more purchasing power - and even with rising inflation, that mirrors better income distribution. 

Social programs have benefited 14 million families - roughly 50 million Brazilians. These policies may arguably be derided as too little, too late Keynesianism. But at least that's a start - in a nation exploited by immensely ignorant, arrogant and rapacious elites for centuries. 

Rousseff's first stint as president may also be blamed for too many concessions to big banks (extremely profitable in Brazil), powerful agribusiness interests and Big Capital. What happened, in a nutshell, is that the center-left Workers' Party swung to the center - and was compelled to make unsavory oligarchic alliances. The result is that a significant section of its social base - the metropolitan working class, now heavily indebted to sustain its brand new consumer dream - ended up flirting with the right as a political alternative. 

Add to it the PT's not exactly brilliant management skills. True, the fight against poverty is a lofty ideal. But in such an unequal nation, that will take at least until 2030 for really serious results. Meanwhile, serious planning is in order - such as building a high-speed rail between the two megalopolises, Rio and Sao Paulo (the Chinese would do it in a few months). And seriously tackling Brazil's oligopolies; banks, corporate media, construction/real estate conglomerates, the auto industry lobby. 

And the loser is - neoliberalism
Unlike the US and Europe, neoliberalism in Brazil has been repeatedly knocked out at the ballot box since 2002, when Lula was first elected president. As for the "social democrat" opposition, there's nothing social, and barely democratic, about it. The PSDB's pet project is turbo-neoliberalism, pure and simple. 

Team Neves had everything going for them. Their key constituency was in fact 60 million mostly angry Brazilian taxpayers - over 80% living and working in the wealthier southeastern seaboard. Life is tough if you are a Brazilian salaried professional or the owner of a small and medium-sized enterprise. The tax burden is on a par with the industrialized world, but you get virtually nothing in return. 

No wonder these irate taxpayers are desperate for decently paved roads, urban security, better public hospitals, a public school system they can send their children to, and less red tape and bureaucracy - which add to the nefarious, universally known "Brazilian cost" (as in no value for money). These are not Workers' Party voters - although some of them were. What they want is galaxies beyond the everyday tribulations of the new, large lower middle class created by the social programs first implemented by Lula. 

Yet with a mediocre candidate like Neves - he even lost in his home state, where he was governor - neoliberalism does not need enemies. 

Neves predictably billed himself as the dragon who would slay what Wall Street derides as "statism" - cutting government spending and "liberalizing" trade, code for privileging corporate US interests. At the same time Neves has never been able to capture the vote of an overburdened black woman in the favelas. 

With Neves, Brazil's future finance minister would have been Arminio Fraga, a slick operator who, among other things, ran high-risk funds in emerging markets for George Soros and is also a former president of Brazil's Central Bank. Some of his shenanigans are detailed in More Money than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite, by Sebastian Mallaby. Fraga would have been the point man of a Soros-inspired government. 

Fraga is the proverbial Wall Street predator. With him at the Finance Ministry, think JP Morgan controlling Brazil's macroeconomic policy. The road in fact was already paved by PSDB's eminence, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who met with key global investors - via JP Morgan - in New York last month. 

Fraga was keen on destroying the Lula and Rousseff administrations' "hyper-Keynesian bet on demand" and replace it with supply, via a new "capitalist shock". Predictably, his prescription was amplified by the enormous echo chamber of conservative Brazilian media, and drowned everything else. 

And as perception is reality, contamination ensued - pressuring public spending downwards, installing major confusion among private investors, and leading Western credit rating agencies to confirm the supposed lack of credibility of the Brazilian economy. 

And it's the US against the BRICS
Brazil is slowly but surely moving from the semi-periphery to being closer to the center of the action in international relations; because of its own regional geopolitical relevance and mostly because of its leading role among the BRICS. This is happening even as Washington could not give a damn about Brazil - or Latin America for that matter. US Think Tankland, by the way, abhors BRICS. 

Politically, a victory for the Cardoso/Neves neoliberals - a ghost of the social democracy they once practiced - would have thrown Brazilian foreign policy upside down; not only against the way the historical winds are blowing, but also against Brazil's own national interests. 

As Rousseff argued at the UN last month, Brazil is trying to fight a global crisis marked by increasing inequality without provoking unemployment and without sacrificing workers' jobs and salaries. As ace economist Theotonio dos Santos stressed the decadence of the West still exerting substantial influence over the Global South via their extensive network of collaborators, he also went one up; the key fight, as he sees it, is to control Brazilian oil. 

Dos Santos is referring to Brazil's top corporation, Petrobras, currently mired in a bribery scandal - which must be fully investigated - that obscures the Holy Grail: the future revenues from "pre-salt" oil - named after the billions of barrels of oil capped by a thick layer of salt lying several miles below the south Atlantic floor. Petrobras plans to invest $221 billion up to 2018 to unlock this treasure - and expects to make a profit even if oil trades around $45 to $50 a barrel. 

Politically, in a nutshell, Rousseff's narrow victory is crucial for the future of a progressive, integrated South America. It will reinvigorate Mercosur - the common market of the South - as well as Unasur - the union of South American nations. This goes way beyond free trade; it's about close regional integration, in parallel to close Eurasia integration. 

And starting in 2015, Brazil may be on the road to renewed economic expansion again - largely boosted by the fruits of "pre-salt" and compounded with accelerated building of roads, railways, ports and airports. That is bound to have a ripple effect across Brazil's neighbors. 

As for Washington/Wall Street, the Empire of Chaos is certainly not happy - and that's a major euphemism, especially after betting on the wrong horse, Marina Silva, a sort of Amazon rainforest-born female counterpart to Obama's "change we can believe in". The fact is as much as the Brazilian model of income distribution is against the interests of big business, Brazilian foreign policy is now diametrically opposed to Washington's. 

On a lighter note, at least some things will remain the same. Like "Dilma's diary" - an apocryphal, satirical, ghost written take on the President's busy schedule published by top Brazilian monthly Piaui, a somewhat local version of The New Yorker. Here's a typical entry: "I watched a whole pirate copy of Homeland. Awesome! We stayed up late, me and Patriota [the former Minister of Foreign Affairs]. He found the whole thing extremely believable!" 

Who said a "vibrant democracy" can't also be fun? 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

October 28, 2014

Principle, Rigor and Execution Matter in U.S. Foreign Policy


Geopolitical Weekly
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2014 - 03:00   
 
Stratfor
By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism for his foreign policy, along with many other things. This is not unprecedented. Former President George W. Bush was similarly attacked. Stratfor has always maintained that the behavior of nations has much to do with the impersonal forces driving it, and little to do with the leaders who are currently passing through office. To what extent should American presidents be held accountable for events in the world, and what should they be held accountable for?

Expectations and Reality

I have always been amazed when presidents take credit for creating jobs or are blamed for high interest rates. Under our Constitution, and in practice, presidents have precious little influence on either. They cannot act without Congress or the Federal Reserve concurring, and both are outside presidential control. Nor can presidents overcome the realities of the market. They are prisoners of institutional constraints and the realities of the world.

Nevertheless, we endow presidents with magical powers and impose extraordinary expectations. The president creates jobs, manages Ebola and solves the problems of the world -- or so he should. This particular president came into office with preposterous expectations from his supporters that he could not possibly fulfill. The normal campaign promises of a normal politician were taken to be prophecy. This told us more about his supporters than about him. Similarly, his enemies, at the extremes, have painted him as the devil incarnate, destroying the Republic for fiendish reasons.

He is neither savior nor demon. He is a politician. As a politician, he governs not by what he wants, nor by what he promised in the election. He governs by the reality he was handed by history and his predecessor. Obama came into office with a financial crisis well underway, along with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His followers might have thought that he would take a magic wand and make them go away, and his enemies might think that he would use them to destroy the country, but in point of fact he did pretty much what Bush had been doing: He hung on for dear life and guessed at the right course.

Bush came into office thinking of economic reforms and a foreign policy that would get away from nation-building. The last thing he expected was that he would invade Afghanistan during his first year in office. But it really wasn't up to him. His predecessor, Bill Clinton, and al Qaeda set his agenda. Had Clinton been more aggressive against al Qaeda, Bush might have had a different presidency. But al Qaeda did not seem to need that level of effort, and Clinton came into office as heir to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And so on back to George Washington.

Presidents are constrained by the reality they find themselves in and the limits that institutions place on them. Foreign policy is what a president wishes would happen; foreign affairs are what actually happen. The United States is enormously powerful. It is not omnipotent. There are not only limits to that power, but unexpected and undesirable consequences of its use. I have in mind the idea that had the United States not purged the Baathists in Iraq, the Sunnis might not have risen. That is possible. But had the Baathists, the party of the hated Saddam Hussein, remained in power, the sense of betrayal felt by Shiites and Kurds at the sight of the United States now supporting Baathists might have led to a greater explosion. The constraints in Iraq were such that having invaded, there was no choice that did not have a likely repercussion.

Governing a nation of more than 300 million people in a world filled with nations, the U.S. president can preside, but he hardly rules. He is confronted with enormous pressure from all directions. He knows only a fraction of the things he needs to know in the maelstrom he has entered, and in most cases he has no idea that something is happening. When he knows something is happening, he doesn't always have the power to do anything, and when he has the power to do something, he can never be sure of the consequences. Everyone not holding the office is certain that he or she would never make a mistake. Obama was certainly clear on that point, and his successor will be as well.

Obama's Goals

All that said, let us consider what Obama is trying to achieve in the current circumstances. It is now 2014, and the United States has been at war since 2001 -- nearly this entire century so far. It has not gone to war on the scale of 20th-century wars, but it has had multidivisional engagements, along with smaller operations in Africa and elsewhere.

For any nation, this is unsustainable, particularly when there is no clear end to the war. The enemy is not a conventional force that can be defeated by direct attack. It is a loose network embedded in the civilian population and difficult to distinguish. The enemy launches intermittent attacks designed to impose casualties on U.S. forces under the theory that in the long run the United States will find the cost greater than the benefit.

In addition to these wars, two other conflicts have emerged. One is in Ukraine, where a pro-Western government has formed in Kiev to the displeasure of Russia, which proceeded to work against Ukraine. In Iraq, a new Sunni force has emerged, the Islamic State, which is partly a traditional insurgency and partly a conventional army.

Under the strategy followed until the chaos that erupted after the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, the response to both would be to send U.S. forces to stabilize the situation. Since 1999 and Kosovo, the United States has been the primary actor in military interventions. More to the point, the United States was the first actor and used military force as its first option. Given the global American presence imposed by the breadth of U.S. power, it is difficult to decline combat when problems such as these arise. It is the obvious and, in a way, easiest solution. The problem is that it is frequently not a solution.

Obama has tried to create a different principle for U.S. operations. First, the conflict must rise to the level that its outcome concerns American interests. Second, involvement must begin with non-military or limited military options. Third, the United States must operate with an alliance structure including local allies, capable of effective operation. The United States will provide aid and will provide limited military force (such as airstrikes) but will not bear the main burden. Finally, and only if the situation is of grave significance and can only be dealt with through direct and major U.S. military intervention, the United States will allow itself to become the main force.

It is a foreign policy both elegant and historically rooted. It is also incredibly complicated. First, what constitutes the national interest? There is a wide spread of opinion in the administration. Among some, intervention to prevent human rights violations is in the national interest. To others, only a direct threat to the United States is in the national interest.

Second, the tempo of intervention is difficult to calibrate. The United States is responding to an enemy, and it is the enemy's tempo of operations that determines the degree of response needed.

Third, many traditional allies, like Germany, lack the means or inclination to involve themselves in these affairs. Turkey, with far more interest in what happens in Syria and Iraq than the United States, is withholding intervention unless the United States is also involved and, in addition, agrees to the political outcome. As Dwight D. Eisenhower learned in World War II, an alliance is desirable because it spreads the burden. It is also nightmarish to maintain because all the allies are pursuing a range of ends outside the main mission.

Finally, it is extraordinarily easy to move past the first three stages into direct interventions. This ease comes from a lack of clarity as to what the national interest is, the enemy's tempo of operations seeming to grow faster than an alliance can be created, or an alliance's failure to gel.

Obama has reasonable principles of operation. It is a response to the realities of the world. There are far more conflicts than the United States has interests. Intervention on any level requires timing. Other nations have greater interests in their future than the United States does. U.S military involvement must be the last step. The principle fits the strategic needs and constraints on the United States. Unfortunately, clear principles frequently meet a murky world, and the president finds himself needing to intervene without clarity.

Presidents' Limited Control

The president is not normally in control of the situation. The situation is in control of him. To the extent that presidents, or leaders of any sort, can gain control of a situation, it is not only in generating principles but also in rigorously defining the details of those principles, and applying them with technical precision, that enables some semblance of control.

President Richard Nixon had two major strategic visions: to enter into a relationship with China to control the Soviet Union, and to facilitate an alliance reversal by Egypt, from the Soviet Union to the United States. The first threatened the Soviet Union with a two-front war and limited Soviet options. The second destroyed a developing Mediterranean strategy that might have changed the balance of power.

Nixon's principle was to ally with nations regardless of ideology -- hence communist China and Nasserite Egypt. To do this, the national interest had to be rigorously defined so that these alliances would not seem meaningless. Second, the shift in relationships had to be carried out with meticulous care. The president does not have time for such care, nor are his talents normally suited for it, since his job is to lead rather than execute. Nixon had Henry Kissinger, who in my opinion and that of others was the lesser strategist, but a superb technician.

The switch in China's alignment became inevitable once fighting broke out with the Soviets. Egypt's break with the Soviets became inevitable when it became apparent to Anwar Sadat that the Soviets would underwrite a war but could not underwrite a peace. Only the United States could. These shifts had little to do with choices. Neither Mao Zedong nor Sadat really had much of a choice.

Where choice exists is in the tactics. Kissinger was in charge of implementing both shifts, and on that level it was in fact possible to delay, disrupt or provide an opening to Soviet counters. The level at which foreign policy turns into foreign affairs is not in the enunciation of the principles but in the rigorous definition of those principles and in their implementation. Nixon had Kissinger, and that was what Kissinger was brilliant at: turning principles into successful implementation.

The problem that Obama has, which has crippled his foreign policy, is that his principles have not been defined with enough rigor to provide definitive guidance in a crisis. When the crisis comes, that's when the debate starts. What exactly is the national interest, and how does it apply in this or that case? Even if he accomplishes that, he still lacks a figure with the subtlety, deviousness and frankly ruthlessness to put it into place. I would argue that the same problem haunted the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations, although their challenges were less daunting and therefore their weakness less visible.

There is a sphere in which history sweeps a president along. The most he can do is adjust to what must be, and in the end, this is the most important sphere. In another sphere -- the sphere of principles -- he can shape events or at least clarify decisions. But the most important level, the level on which even the sweep of history is managed, is the tactical. This is where deals are made and pressure is placed, and where the president can perhaps shift the direction of history.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has not had a president who operated consistently and well in the deeper levels of history. This situation is understandable, since the principles of the Cold War were so powerful and then suddenly gone. Still, principles without definition and execution without precision cannot long endure.



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