Friday, March 28, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008


The New York Times reports that a number of factors, including the heavy cracktown on Tebetian dissent by the Chinese government, have made upcoming elections in Taiwan unexpectedly close. The Nationalist party, which still favors some type of reunification with the mainland, was on course to win by a substantial margin, but the recent actions of the Chinese government seem to have given the voters some pause. Taiwan strikes me as an area in which the United States should be more heavily engaged. Our policy of strategic ambiguity in the China-Taiwan dispute has kept things relatively quiet over the last several decades, but as China's power grows along with Taiwanese sentiment for independence, it would behoove the United States to facilitate negotiations for some kind of permanent status agreement between the two countries (or "political entities" if you prefer) before we find the issue forced, and we are caught between the options of abandoning an ally and risking major war.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Parag Khanna

Sorry for the absurdly long absence. I've got a few posts in the works and I promise I'll be back into form soon. For those of you in the D.C. area, I highly recommend you come to the Politics & Prose bookstore this evening for a 7:00 talk by Parag Khanna, author of the new book The Second World. I'm in the process of reading it and it's an absolute tour de force.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Responding to rocket attacks from Hamas is one thing. I understand that the Israeli government has a responsibility to protect its own people. To be honest, though, the continued officially-sanctioned building of settlements in disputed territory, coupled with the government turning a blind eye to unsanctioned ones, is beginning to seriously undercut my sympathy with Israel's position vis a vis the Palestinians. All through the last two decades of on-and-off negotiations with the Palestinian authority, the Israelis have made no serious effort to curb settlement activity. From a perspective of U.S. policy, if the Israeli government is really not willing to restrain the more reactionary, destructive impulses of some Israeli citizens, we ought to re-think the nature of our relationship with the country.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that we abandon the Israelis, but the level of aid and political cover that the American government gives to that of Israel has got to have some relationship to U.S. strategic interests. Israel's continued colonization of the West Bank is clearly and unequivocally not in the interest of the United States. Our foreign policy ought to begin reflecting that.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Good Idea of the Evening

A recently released report commissioned by Britain's Royal Society has called for the creation of an international database of global nuclear programs in order to improve nuclear forensic capabilities and provide incentives for governments to secure their nuclear materials. The idea is that if there were a global databank detailing the scope, extent and nature of civilian and military nuclear activity, it would increase the chances that smuggled nuclear material or - God forbid - the remains of a nuclear attack would be traced back to their source. If governments know that they will be blamed for rogue groups using their nuclear stocks, they will take better care of them. Also, in the chaotic atmosphere that would surely follow a nuclear attack of unsure provenance, having the outlines of an appropriate response in place beforehand would reduce the possibility of knee-jerk reactions that could amplify the crisis.

Best of all, the Society's proposal has few downsides for most international actors, meaning that it is realistically implementable. Certainly opaque nuclear powers like Israel and emerging powers like Iran would be reluctant to disclose the information necessary to participate, but even if they remained outside of the databank regime, it would serve its purpose, as the chances that their nuclear materials would be identified would be increased through the process of elimination. For most established nuclear powers, whose arsenals play the role of strategic backstop, the diminished threat of 'loose nukes' would be well worth the marginally uncomfortable disclosure process. Here's hoping this idea is picked up by those in positions of global leadership.

Abbas Resumes Peace Talks

So, for what they're worth, Abbas has agreed to back down from his suspension of peace talks with Israel. He had previously demanded a truce between Israel and Hamas as a condition for talks to continue. While I think it's great that Abbas has decided that continuing talks is preferable to a bloody stalemate, his original point is well taken. Israel understandably doesn't want to enter into full-fledged peace negotiations with Hamas, which would confer upon the group the status of a legitimate governing entity, but it strikes me as both reasonable and prudent to negotiate a cease fire, if only to stop the photographs of Israeli military strikes in Gaza from reaching the West Bank and further undermining Abbas's already tenuous position.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

And the Rationale Would Be...?

Blake Hounshell over at FP Passport makes an interesting and logical point about the way that the U.S. sometimes uses its military. How, precisely, is a missile destroyer off the Lebanese coast supposed to bolster the current government? Hounshell notes that all the move is likely to do is remind the Lebanese of U.S. sea-to-land shelling during the 1980s (I actually had a Lebanese professor in college, one of whose earliest memories was the sound of American shells shrieking overhead into the mountains), ratcheting up tensions rather than calming them. I'm not a military man. Perhaps the ship has some political or strategic value that I just don't see. Still, while gunboat diplomacy can be useful in certain circumstances (I at least understand, for example, sending more U.S. ships into the Gulf to send a message to Iran), it doesn't seem to hold much potential to improve things in Lebanon.

Monday, March 3, 2008

On Iran and Nuclear Weapons

The IAEA today has stepped up its criticism of Iran's nuclear program, following a presentation last week by the agency's chief inspector, which presented evidence that Iranian scientists have been engaging in work "not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon."

I, along with most engaged citizens, breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing last November's National Intelligence Estimate which showed that Iran had likely stopped nuclear weapons development in 2003. I was relieved not out of any belief that Iran's nuclear ambitions had been curbed, but out of a sense that any justification that the Bush Administration might use to unilaterally attack Iran before leaving office had evaporated. The damage to America's geostrategic position caused by such an attack would have been incalculable and irreparable. Along with many people better informed than myself, though, I worried that the NIE would make dealing with Iran's nuclear program more difficult, as it would provide cover to members of the international community who were wary of confronting Iran in the first place, and who underestimated the threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to global security. Unfortunately, those fears now appear to be well-founded, as the U.S. and France remain the only countries really standing tough against Iran on the issue (my how unthinkable such a situation would have seemed only a few short years ago).

Let us be clear: an Iran armed with operational and deliverable nuclear weapons would be a serious threat to both regional and global security. I don't share the worries of some that a nuclear Iran would endure self-immolation in a messianic quest to destroy Israel - I give the Iranian leadership more credit than that - and I also doubt that the Iranians would give a nuclear device to a terrorist group, both because state governments are loathe to relinquish control over nuclear weapons and because acts of nuclear terrorism would almost certainly be traced back to their source. The greater danger comes from the multidimensional nuclear chess game that would emerge in the Middle East as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and perhaps others followed Iran down the nuclear path. I tend not to agree with the notion of "nuclear peace" whereby nuclear weapons are said to introduce stability to inter-state relations. Rather, I paraphrase the wisdom of former Secretary of Defense McNamara - someone who once looked into the abyss of nuclear war - who said that the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons can only lead to disaster. In the blindingly complex chess game of Middle Eastern politics, nuclear weapons cannot be placed on all sides of the board.

It has been a common for U.S. officials to say that 'all options remain on the table' with regard to stopping Iran's nuclear program. The problem, though, is that such statements have not yet been true. The United States has not shown itself particularly willing to offer carrots - security guarantees, diplomatic recognition, trade agreements - to match its sticks, and so has been negotiating at a profound disadvantage. I would recommend Reuel Marc Gerecht's piece in the Times recently as a way forward in Iran that is neither blindly hawkish nor willfully blind about the problems Iran poses. Global security demands that Iran not attain nuclear capabilities, but toothless sanctions and foolish obstinancy won't stop that from happening. It's time for a different approach.

Visit to Iraq

Shaun Mullen makes a depressingly good point.