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Posts Tagged ‘realpolitik’


China as a Great Power: Two Must Reads

   Posted by: Pat    in Book Review, China   Print Print

I just spent my Saturday morning doing some solid nerding. By that I mean, I read two great articles about that rising behemoth, China. The first was ‘China’s Bumpy Road Ahead by international consultant and geopolitical analyst Ian Bremmer. Bremmer, has a blog at Foreign Policy that features many guest writers and covers impactful global events, has been a long time favorite of mine and his pieces are always informative and usually provide a long term strategic outlook. (You might say Bremmer is brimming with insight!) His ‘Bumpy Road’ article is no different as it attempts to temper the conventional wisdom that China’s rise and eventual replacement of the United States as a world power is a slam dunk, home run, and another American sports cliche. Bremmer makes a compelling list of the challenges the Middle Kingdom has to still overcome, including:

this is a country that measures its annual supply of large-scale protests in the tens of thousands. For 2006, China’s Academy of Social Sciences reported the eruption of about 60,000 “mass group incidents,” an official euphemism for demonstrations of public anger involving at least 50 people. In 2007, the number jumped to 80,000. Though such figures are no longer published, a leak put the number for 2008 at 127,000. Today, it is almost certainly higher.

There is certainly no credible evidence that China is on the brink of an unforeseen crisis, but all that public anger points to enormous challenges on the road ahead. Emerging powers like India, Brazil and Turkey can continue to grow for the next 10 years with the same basic formula that sparked growth over the past 10. China, on the other hand, must undertake enormously complex and ambitious reforms to continue its drive to become a modern power, and the country’s leadership knows it.

The financial crisis made clear that China’s dependence for growth on the purchasing power of consumers in America, Europe and Japan creates a dangerous vulnerability.

A few weeks ago, I highlighted Henry Kissinger’s excerpt of his new book ‘On China’, which I was surprised to learn was about China. Have you stopped laughing? Good, I’ll continue. Well, I found an excellent review of Kissinger’s latest book by Zachary Keck from E-International Relations. Keck does a reader friendly, old fashioned book review where he smoothly intertwines Kissinger’s prior books and IR philosophies as well as other major works on the topic with ‘On China’. Keck was as impressed as I was with Kissinger’s emphasis and ‘ability to portray [the] mindset’ of various Chinese leaders:

Although China’s offensive deterrence is borne out of geopolitical realities, Kissinger does not overlook the importance of individual leaders. Indeed, one of the most noteworthy parts of the book is Kissinger’s intense focus on the nature of individual leaders and his ability to illustrate the dilemmas they faced. Given his nearly unprecedented access to a vast range of high-ranking officials on both sides of the relationship, Kissinger is uniquely qualified to tell this history. In doing so, Kissinger allows the reader to “look over the shoulder” of the statesmen in the best traditions of Classical Realism.

Overall, Kissinger portrays leaders in both countries in a fairly positive manner. This is especially true with American Presidents and occasionally their advisers (most notably, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Winston Lord), whom Kissinger finds little to criticize.

Although similar in many respects to his portrayals of American leaders, ultimately Kissinger’s accounts of their Chinese counterparts are more interesting. Kissinger clearly understands the difficult conundrums Chinese leaders often face when weighing the importance of good relations with the United States against domestic political considerations.  Kissinger’s ability to put the reader in the minds of Chinese officials is the aspect of the book that will likely be the most enticing to current and future diplomats dealing with China.

Keck ends his review with an analysis of the current battle between Republican Party’s two main foreign policy schools: Realists vs. Neoconservatives. Keck is more sympathetic to Kissinger’s realism-based view of a rising China, arguing that at this moment, it provides the ‘best prospects for peace’.

I enjoyed my ‘China’s Rise’ morning of nerdy reading, now it’s your turn. Get to those articles!

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Obama’s Arab Spring Speech: Democracy is King

   Posted by: Pat    in Middle East   Print Print

I went under the hot lights and answered a few questions thrown my way by FMFP on President Obama’s recent speech on the Arab Spring in the Middle East:

1. What was the main takeaway or takeaways from the President’s speech?

Pat: Firstly, that the US continues to put its weight behind the forces of democracy and liberalism in their foreign affairs. President Obama’s speech channeled his inner George W. Bush and Woodrow Wilson in this speech, unequivocally putting the United States on the side of those seeking political and social freedoms in the Middle East. Now following up this rhetoric with policies is the hard part. It is much easier to critique the Bahrain government is a speech in Washington D.C. than in person when they are holding the rights to a key American naval base. The President offered economic aid in the form of loans, investments, debt forgiveness to Egypt and Tunisia, but these will need the backing of other international actors, including the IMF and their new leader, and will take awhile to see fruit.

Another takeaway is that the Obama administration wants you to believe they were not got off guard with these events in the Middle East. This is not surprising as every administration/leader wants to appear omnipresent and in charge, but the ad hoc approach taken by the administration as these events unfolded presented a different picture. Basically, the administration seemed to just be tackling the events individually as they arose as best they could. This is not a huge criticism as few saw this coming and there were many tough calls (Mubarak alone) to be made, but these events did bring to light the fact that the administration had no overarching strategy or outlook to base its policy on.

A final takeaway is the fact that this President can’t help himself when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian eternal conflict. This in many ways is praiseworthy as the President refuses to throw up his hands at the continual roadblocks to this seemingly intractable problems. But I just don’t get it. With Hamas coming back into the fold and Netanyahu holding strong, it is difficult to imagine a solution to this issue anytime soon.

2. Did the President comment on US policy toward the Arab Spring – the political uprisings against dictators in Syria, Egypt, Yemen and other countries?

Pat: Very much so, but not with too many specifics. He did say that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had to implement reforms or ‘get out of the way’, by far President Obama’s strongest rhetoric on Syria’s uprising. Obama also had relatively strong words for the leaders of Bahrain and Yemen, two US allies. The President tried to put the US on the side of all the peaceful demonstrators and made a convincing argument (though I’m a sympathetic ear) that American interests are furthered in the long term when more people get to have a voice in their government. The problem is this gets blurry quickly. The US does not want the Yemen or Bahrain governments toppled by extreme anti- American forces that could hurt our interests. The US also does not wish to see the Muslim Brotherhood gain too much power in Egypt. Instability anywhere is also a global harm that the administration should be weary of, as I believe was a heavy consideration for intervening in Libya (right next door to a vulnerable Egypt).

3. Did the President address the topic of foreign aid to Pakistan? In the last ten years, America gave some $20 billion in foreign aid to Pakistan ($9 billion to fight militants). After talk of Pakistan aiding al Qaeda and other terrorist networks, does the President have a position on whether we should continue supporting this critical state?

Pat: No, he did not, but in fairness this was a speech about the Middle East. Obama has been quiet about aid to Pakistan since the Osama assassination. The President is keeping close to vest on this one, I believe, because his administration probably has no plans to curtail the current aid package to Pakistan. The American people are clearly fed up with Pakistan government and military as only 17% support maintaining the aid in one poll, but realpolitik comes into play here. Unfortunately, the US is still dependent on the Pakistan state and military for a positive outcome in Afghanistan and for information regarding anti-US militants inside of Pakistan. The US is in bed with Pakistan in the War on Terror and its a bed with tight sheets.

4. On the topic of Israel and Palestine, the President advocated a return to pre-1967 War borders. Clearly this was not welcome news for Israeli supporters and its president who just visited with Obama. Is this a change in US policy? What will likely be the implications of such a policy?

Pat: Obama has argued that it is not a change, but perception matters greatly, and others, including AIPAC, Palestinian and Israeli leadership, major American news outlets, believe it was a shift. Obama has bent over backwards the past few days to calm everyone down and try to emphasize the ‘swap’ part of his 1967 borders statement, but this has likely made a difficult situation that much harder. Israeli leader Netanyahu has already come out strong against any idea that Israel will ever return to borders before the 1967 war, calling it not ‘reality‘. A situation that didn’t need anymore setbacks, just appeared to get another one.

5. Did the President address the efforts of the US and NATO in Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan – our three military fronts in the Middle East?

Pat: Iraq was mentioned in a positive light. In fact, President Obama brought it up as a possible shining example of a pluralistic society governing itself democratically to all the other states in the region going through either rebellion or democratic growing pains. The President reiterated the fact that the US, along with the international community, halted a large scale massacre in Libya by acting with force and that  Qaddafi will have to go eventually. It is interesting to note though how Tunisia, Egypt, and even Bahrain and Syria, received either more or almost as much attention in the speech as Libya, a state we are currently at war with! Afghanistan was mentioned exactly once and I can shorten the only sentence even further: Taliban on run, US troops leaving soon, Afghans will take lead. Heck, that was almost as long as the actual Afghan part of the speech!

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US-Middle East Relations: Back to the Good Ol’ Days?

   Posted by: FMFP    in Middle East   Print Print

We often hear people complain that America‘s reputation has taken a hit in the last few years, with most of the blame going to former President Bush and his administration. Putting aside the challenging task of measuring what that actually means when translated into real world consequences, it is worthwhile to look at trends that follow such talk. When the US has a “negative” reputation abroad, we typically see the populations of our Western European friends (France, Germany, Britain) staging protests against us. Additionally, unfriendly dictators (like those in Iran, Venezuela and North Korea) see the opportunity to ramp up their rhetoric, blaming the US for many of their failed domestic and foreign policies.

Rarely does the attention fall on the other interested parties though. The governments of our allies are usually split in their support for our actions (perhaps with Britain, Italy, Australia and Japan supporting us while France, Germany and Spain oppose us). And the US typically receives silent support from the populations of those dictators who consistently condemn us. For example, the Iranian people generally have a very positive view of the US when we appear to be standing up to their government. The same can be said of many other repressed regimes whose populations are rarely heard from.

This discussion is particularly relevant now because our “flailing international reputation” is frequently referenced as a reason for needing change in Washington. At least rhetorically, we seem to be witnessing a major shift from the idealist approach of the early Bush Administration that gave us the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. (Many in the IR field would agree, the last two years of the Bush Administration took a very realpolitik approach in their interactions with North Korea and Iran).

Yesterday, President Obama conducted his first interview with a Middle East television station, Al Arabiya, indicating his intent to return to the days of realist policy in the Middle East. While the mood of the American people appear ready to embrace such a strategy, it’s worth discussing at what price this change will come and who will most benefit. Clearly, the American people view it as saving us money now desperately needed at home. It will also save lives of American military men and women. But what about those people living under a despotic regime in the Middle East? Will they be better off now that the US is no longer offering to help take on evil dictators and spread democracy? Now that the US is going to sit down with their repressive governments and smooth things over so business deals flow and dictators’ “sovereignty” is protected?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami discusses this transition and poignantly captures the irony of the change in policy and its political voices:

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” President Barack Obama said in his inaugural. But in truth, the new way forward is a return to realpolitik and business as usual in America‘s encounter with that Greater Middle East. As the president told Al-Arabiya television Monday, he wants a return to “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago….

The irony now is obvious: George W. Bush as a force for emancipation in Muslim lands, and Barack Hussein Obama as a messenger of the old, settled ways. Thus the “parochial” man takes abroad a message that Muslims and Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA, and the man with Muslim and Kenyan and Indonesian fragments in his very life and identity is signaling an acceptance of the established order.”

Perhaps another reason this is so ironic is that 30 years ago it was the idealist/”human rights” campaign that pressed Jimmy Carter to drop US support for dictators like the Shah of Iran. Of course, this prompted the Shah’s quick departure and the Iranian Revolution lead by Ayatollah Khomeini. Based on these results, it’s not surprising that the idealist approach was discredited.

This time around however, it appears the idealist theory (backed by force) has been much more effective. In his piece, Ajami explains why this might be the case:

“Say what you will about the style — and practice — of the Bush years, the autocracies were on notice for the first five or six years of George. W. Bush’s presidency. America had toppled Taliban rule and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein; it had frightened the Libyan ruler that a similar fate lay in store for him. It was not sweet persuasion that drove Syria out of Lebanon in 2005. That dominion of plunder and terror was given up under duress…

The argument that liberty springs from within and can’t be given to distant peoples is more flawed than meets the eye. In the sweep of modern history, the fortunes of liberty have been dependent on the will of the dominant power — or powers — in the order of states. The late Samuel P. Huntington made this point with telling detail. In 15 of the 29 democratic countries in 1970, democratic regimes were midwifed by foreign rule or had come into being right after independence from foreign occupation.

In the ebb and flow of liberty, power always mattered, and liberty needed the protection of great powers. The appeal of the pamphlets of Mill and Locke and Paine relied on the guns of Pax Britannica, and on the might of America when British power gave way. In this vein, the assertive diplomacy of George W. Bush had given heart to Muslims long in the grip of tyrannies.

Take that image of Saddam Hussein, flushed out of his spider hole some five years ago: Americans may have edited it out of their memory, but it shall endure for a long time in Arab consciousness. Rulers can be toppled and brought to account. No wonder the neighboring dictatorships bristled at the sight of that capture, and at his execution three years later.”

For the repressed peoples of the Middle East, we can only hope the protests of Parisians are a better signal of failed policy than they appear to be.

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