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Great Power Free-For-Fall

   Posted by: Pat   in China, Middle East, Russia

As much as I disagree with the CIA prosecution policy of the Obama administration, it has helped highlight a critical and complicated issue in US national security, international security, and for modern democracies.  Discussions by President Obama, ex-VP Dick Cheney, leading intellectuals, newspapers, and citizens, like us here at GPP, attests to this, and I hold up that we can find an acceptable, if not happy, medium.  In any regard, that’s all I’m going to say about that right now.  Well, almost.  Here’s two provocotive CIA/torture pieces worth checking out:  Liberal Columnist Richard Cohen looks at ‘Torture’s Unanswerable Questions‘ 2.  A high level debate on the issue spurred by Cohen’s piece.

The rest of this post will be as the title suggests, a hodge-podge of Great Power topics.  Are you pumped or what!?!  I am!!!

  • Stratfor’s George Friedman takes a stab at reviewing the now concluded, opening stage of President Obama’s foreign policy.  Friedman’s take is centered on two related points: Obama’s policies are a lot like Bush’s and this is no surprise because state leaders’ foreign affairs decisions are shaped by ‘necessity’ and constrained by fundamental strategic interests.  Friedman is a Realist, and a consistent one, so this should not surprise.  The most interesting aspect of the review is Friedman’s geopolitical analysis of Obama’s ‘Reset’ policy with Moscow.  He sees an inherent problem with the strategy:

The problem, of course, was that the last thing the Russians wanted was to reset relations with the United States. They did not want to go back to the period after the Orange Revolution, nor did they want to go back to the period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Orange Revolution. The Obama administration’s call for a reset showed the distance between the Russians and the Americans: The Russians regard the latter period as an economic and geopolitical disaster, while the Americans regard it as quite satisfactory. Both views are completely understandable.

This is true for many international issues, as just because we desire ‘talks’, ‘resets’, ‘war’, etc. does not mean our ally or enemy want the same.  Conflicts happen for a reason.

  • For only the 2nd time in decades, with this time looking to be much more consequential than the first, Japan has a new ruling party running its domestic and foreign affairs.  The perennially in power Liberal Democrats have been booted out of government and replaced by the Democratic Party of Japan and this will muddies the future Japan-US alliance, if even just a bit.  From their very existence, the Liberal Democrats were closely allied with the US, and the DPJ has held some troubling policy prescriptions toward its relations with the US while in opposition.  Though a sea change in relations is extremely unlikely, there is indeed some cause for concern, especially in regards to the presence of American military personnel on certain Japanese islands.  The Obama administration will need to show some agility in dealing with this new government and keeping the Japanese-American alliance strong.  A rather mundane, stable US foreign policy sphere has suddenly become a bit more exciting/worrying.
  • Speaking of East Asia and Realism, Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini wrote a short and sweet piece persuasively arguing that no one should expect to see US-China partnership any time soon.  Here is a list of the contrasting interests and positions that will keep them apart: 1. US focus on geopolitical headaches around the globe with China confining itself with geo-economic challenges 2. Both state governments have internal issues to keep their attention (economic, health care, Uighurs, baseball playoff races, etc.) 3. Internal bureaucratic infighting, especially in regards to a lack of cooperation with both Beijing and Washington’s respective State and Treasury Departments 4. Lastly, on major international security issues, like Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, Russia’s moves in Eastern Europe, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, climate change, the two behemoths have diverging positions.  What’s interesting about this piece by Bremmer and Roubini is that they make a Realist argument, but stress internal aspects (bureaucracy, domestic politics) as key factors.  Realist theory largely and mistakenly misses these factors by focusing too much on just the state and international actors.
  • Speaking of Russia in Eastern Europe (at least I did a little bit ago), Moscow is having a good ol’fashioned great power row with Poland about who was more Nazi-friendly during World War II.  I know what you’re thinking….this is great-power-awesome!  Apparently, Russia has been releasing documents showing elements in Poland helped the Nazis, while the Polish are trying to remind Moscow that they invaded and conquered them in a partnership with the Third Reich!  It seems like this morbid diplomatic fight is not a real threat to Polish-Russian relations, just an interesting verbal spat.
  • Apparently, the War on Terror may not be dead just yet.  Obama Press Secretary used the phrase in its proper context when defending Obama’s Afghan strategy.
  • Just when you thought your great power work was done, here is a video by two mostly well-spoken folks debating whether America will remain a great power, with the much more important question of How, being addressed as well.  Hat tip to my friends at Foreign Policy Association’s Rising Powers blog, specifically David Kampf, for this and for already picking out the discussion’s ‘money quote’:

“the greatest advantage that the United States has going forward is that as other countries become more powerful there is always going to be the feeling among their neighbors and among others in the world that they are going to view that apprehensively and I think they are going to look to the United States…to provide you with a security partner.”

Just like the Pittsburgh Pirates’ playoff chances, this post is finished!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 at 7:45 pm and is filed under China, Middle East, Russia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far


With regard to Japan, aren’t the leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan disaffected former members of the Liberal Democrats? Things I have seen (on the BBC) predict very little change of Japanese policy towards the U.S., especially when you consider that the brunt of their defense is being funded by the U.S. What the BBC maintained was that the defeat for the liberal party was almost wholly due to worsening economic conditions and a rapidly increasing unemployment rate. (Low unemployment has always been a matter of pride for the Japanese)

September 2nd, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Here is a solid round up of ways where the DPJ may have a foreign policy outlook that may challenge the US,

September 14th, 2009 at 8:53 pm