Monthly Archives: August 2015

Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World

Book review: Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World (2015) by the president of Eurasia Groups Ian Bremmer (PhD; Stanford)

I find NYU political scientist and Time magazine editor-at-large Ian Bremmer fascinating. He is able to hold a conversation about modern affairs in a way that is authoritative yet casual and analytically brilliant and intellectually challenging. His latest book, his ninth, is his first book completely focusing on the foreign policy strategy of the U.S. I also vehemently (often, but not always) disagree with a lot of what he says; I am drawn to thinkers who challenge, provoke, and simply, to those who I disagree with. I believe this is how we grow as a thinker and is how we understand other perspectives.

Up front, he presents an interesting argument that Russia is not really a serious threat to the U.S. but that the U.S.-EU relationship could become tense due to Europe needing Russian financial customers, energy, and defense contracts. A provocative claim and one backed up with empirical data. The U.S. trades with Switzerland and Belgium, for example, more than with Russia (U.S. Census). Bremmer is worried about China who sometime during the next decade will become the largest economy but will still be “poor, potentially unstable, and authoritarian.” Whether we are talking about Russia aggression; or Chinas’ rise; or global warming (which Bremmer does not cover really at all, to my dismay); or the threat of terrorism; possible disease epidemics; or the refugee crises, America needs to choose a coherent strategy. Bremmer argues there are 3 potential choices.

Incoherent America (1990-2015)
Bremmer’s main argument is that post-Cold War through to this year, America has not had a coherent foreign policy strategy and the sole remaining superpower made mostly bumbling mistakes built on ignorance, hubris, and blurry vision and spotty goals like the Somalian intervention (Clinton); expanding NATO (Clinton/Bush 43); and the War on Terror + Bush tax cuts (Bush43/Obama). On Obama, Breemer argues that in his first term, he had a more coherent strategy but that quickly dissolved and “President Obama refused to commit to any foreign policy framework to help him make difficult decisions.” This brings us to 2015, the 2016 presidential campaigns, and the future. We need a strategy, not just tactical ideas but a coherent strategy to guide the country and to signal to the world our strengths and values. Bremmer often meets with foreign ministers from allies and enemies alike and they all say: we don’t know what America stands for. This is a problem.

Option #1: Independent America
Here Bremmer delineates the disaster that has been the rise of the military-industrial complex and the costs, human and fiscal, of American acting as the one true superpower. The author cites a 2013 Harvard study showing that when all is said and done, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost our country nearly $7 trillion. Americans in hundreds of polls have shown our disapproval of national building, war, “free trade” deals like NAFTA, and so on and so on. Americans are fatigued and understand that we need to nation-build here at home. Independent here refers to the fact that American citizens want America to make decisions that prioritize our interests; not our allies or our neighbors even. We need to go our separate ways and to worry about our needs such as infrastructure, education, and caring for our veterans now they are back home from a decade of war. This strategy is bolstered by being supported by the American public in poll-after-poll-after-poll.

This brings us to Bremmers’ – or Americas’ rather – second option.

Option #2: Moneyball America
Moneyball Americans view Independent America as isolationists. This view of America sees that we “must lead coalitions of the willing,” and “U.S. foreign policy must promote and protect global growth, both by minimizing the risk of war and by giving as many countries as possible a stake in stability through commerce and investment.” Moneyballers, based on the Oakland A’s famous baseball approach, “rel[y] on a cold-blooded, interest-driven approach to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s investment.” Value over values. We need to “maximize returns on minimal investment.” This is a business-minded approach. We should view foreign policy like businesses view venture projects. Regarding the three leading Middle East powers, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, we should – in my loose summation – play all three cards. Or: American should use its hand to balance powers. Don’t get caught up in too many nets; have an exit strategy.

Option #3 Indispensable America
This final option is probably the option that most Americans are familiar with. America must lead. America is the shining light on the hill. America is the best-est most brightest country in the world. I’m being a little breezy here. On a serious note: this option is realistic. In Bremmers’ words through the glasses of a proponent: “Americans can only be more secure in a world where democracy, rule of law, access to information, freedom of speech, and human rights are universally recognized and protected, because these values create lasting strength, resilience, security, and wealth in the societies that establish and protect them.” Basically someone must lead and that someone has to be the U.S., according to this viewpoint. Regarding debt and money: “The United States can pay its debts by simply printing more money.” This is probably the sentence I agree with the most in the entire book, but that’s for a different time perhaps. In summation, this strategy is the most historically and realistically coherent, in my opinion.

What strategy should we choose?
In the beginning of the book, Ian produces a 10-question quiz and he asks the reader to take it. After each chapter/strategy-option, he reprints the quiz with highlighted answers based on the arguments of each option. According to the questions (an ex: U.S. spy capabilities: a) will always be a double-edged sword. b. Threaten our privacy. c. Are vital for protecting America. I chose a, by the way which is in alignment with Independent America, for example.) I have a mumbled complicated and overlapping (read: non-strategy strategy) answer. 10% of me is an Independent America; 50% of the time I agree with Moneyball America; 30% of the time I align with the Indispensables.

This is interesting because while reading the book, I mostly agreed with Independent America as the most wise choice of the three; followed closely by the Indispensable chapter. In reality, the way Moneyball was presented, I do sort of think about problems in my life and in politics in this way. So what did the author choose? Professor Bremmer actually chose Independent America as the wisest choice; he does so reluctantly mind you.

This book is a fantastic primer and summary of the world that awaits us. As someone who is graduating with a B.A. in political science in just a few months, I knew all of the facts presented here; I know the arguments, history, and context and therefore, I could have used a more complex book. I definitely think climate change is the existential issue of our lives; thus I always want climate change discussed more. Always. However, I am not casting aspersions. This book is great for all Americans to read. Whether you think nation-states are inherently bad and you are an anarchist or whether or not you are a international institutionalist who thinks nation-states should yield to a world government, Superpower is written as the world is, not as any of us want it to be. America will be the world’s most powerful country, in many ways, for the foreseeable future. I recommend this book to political science students; government and business leaders; and all other engaged and responsible citizens across the country.

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US-Pakistan: Magnificent Delusions: Part 2

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, The United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
by Husain Haggani. PublicAffairs. 413 pp.

Part 1 covered the years 1947-1951. Part 2, below, covers 1951-1959.
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The early beginnings of Pakistan were tumultuous and ripe with realpolitik; and propaganda; further, all sides – whether it was the US, India, Pakistan, or the Soviet Union – were playing all sides. We begin this part 2 where I left off: it’s the Korean War and it’s a time where the future of Pakistan is up for grabs, in all ways imaginable.

The Truman Administration was hesitant to make many promises to Pakistan. The next administration, under Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during WWII, was more likely to help Pakistan due to Eisenhower being “tougher” about geopolitics. Eisenhower viewed Pakistan strategically and has “a more aggressive anticommunism stance throughout the world.” His Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles thought the same way. Dulles thought that Hindus were susceptible to communist ideology; he thought Muslims were inherently the opposite. Of course, this is nonsense but it’s illustrative of the type of thinking that prevailed, even (some would say especially) from Very Smart People, during the Cold War. Almost 60 pages into this book, and Haqqani’s words on the great Secretary of State are his most critical yet. The combination of hawkish Red Scare anticommunism Ideology and the rising political class in Pakistan, desperate for external help to build their military and economy, provides fragile ingredients prone to delusional thinking. This is also an example of what political scientists call path-dependency, or the simple idea that past moves/actions limit what can be done in the present. You could also refer to this as history matters.

A brief note: *Some of these names here are considered some of the most important US officials of all time. The same can be said for the Pakistani names. This was a crucial time for the world.*

Food For Support in This Ideological Age
Pakistan faced an impending grain shortage and the US sent “seven hundred thousand tons of wheat” under the Wheat Aid Act. This, Haqqani writes, “marked the first major success in Pakistan’s wooing of America.” The Pakistani ambassador to the United States Muhammad Ali Bogra succeeded where Liaquat – one of the “Founding Fathers” of Pakistan failed. However, Pakistan wanted military aid and Iskander Mirza, Pakistani Defense Secretary and army commander General Muhammad Ayub Khan (Ayub from here on out.) had bigger plans. A common them in Pakistan is for their leaders to say one thing publicly, while simultaneously doing the exact opposite in real life. “Reports that my government is negotiating with the U.S. Government for military assistance in return for American bases in Pakistan are absolutely unfounded and baseless,” declared Ghulam Muhammad, who was now the governor-general. Haqqani points out that this “was a blatant lie.”

Richard Nixon
Nixon was Eisenhower’s vice president and he traveled to a dozen countries in the East and had an outsized influence in foreign policy in Eisenhower’s Administration. Nixon did not like the Prime Minister of India, Nehru, very much. However, he did think Pakistan deserved our help. “Pakistan is a country I would like to do everything for,” remarked Nixon. Nixon only visited Pakistan for three days and even though “he met only people who had carefully choreographed what to say to him,” according to Haqqani, he believed that their anticommunist views were real. Admiral Arthur Radford was charmed, himself, by Ayub.

Coincidence or Conspiracy
US Ambassador Hildreth, a former Republican governor of Maine, also supported giving military aid to Pakistan as he viewed this as in Americas best interest. Hildreth became friends with Mirza. Mirza’s son, Humayun actually “married Hildreth’s daughter Jospehine.” Let the speculation begin. If you read part 1 you read that after 1951, Pakistan had a internal political mess. This opened up many positions and gave power to unelected nonpoliticians. Mirza, who had many roles, became president later on in 1956, was now the Defense Secretary and Pakistan got what they wanted, more or less.

“The US and Pakistan signed a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement on May 19, 1954,” lays out Haqqani. This assured that Pakistan would assist the US in their anticommunist mission. Also: “Pakistan affirmed that it would not undertake any act of aggression against any other nation.” Pakistani leftists were not happy. This gave the US more reason to support Mirza and Ayub and the elites because the alternative could certainly be an anti-American government rising to power. The US government was not concerned that the Pakistani parliament was ineffectual and the new nation-state had no constitution. America was primarily focused on solidifying anticommunism support, and that is basically it. In fact, there wouldn’t be direct elections in Pakistan until 1970.

The Pakistan Problem: Path Dependency
All in all Pakistan received over $1 billion from the US between 1954-1959. Eisenhower became suspicious of how expensive, for so little promise in return from Pakistan, this bilateral relationship had become. “…[This] tendency to rush out and seek allies was not very sensible,” remarked President Eisenhower. At the beginning of Eisenhower’s second term, his new ambassador to Pakistan Jim Langley also saw how much of a mess this whole thing was. Did it matter? No because Pakistan allowed for an NSA-CIA listening post and interception facility to intercept Soviet radar. Thus: the money kept pouring in.

Ayub Rises
Back to Ayub: The Pakistani Commander-in-Chief had many tricks up his sleeves. Ayub convinced US leaders that not only was India a threat but so was China and Afghanistan, claiming that these countries were “getting enormous quantities of aid.” The pace of this book is a middling one; many details and with no rush to get anywhere in particular. However, towards the end of this chapter, Haqqani speeds up some of the story: President Eisenhower “realized that he had disagreed with Ayub on all substantive issues.” This, however, did not stop the US from supporting Pakistan and Ayub, who grabbed power through a coup in which Ayub was the chief martial law administrator and prime minister. Later, Ayub consolidated power even more by combining the offices of president and prime minister. Although Eisenhower might have realized that Pakistan faced no immediate threat, he still decided to bolster their military and to continue the status quo. “By the end of Eisenhower’s term as president the United States had helped Pakistan’s army equip 4 infantry divisions and one and a half armored divisions, including M-47 Patton tanks,” writes Haqqani. Moreover, the Pakistan navy received “12 vessels including destroyers and minesweepers.” The air force “received 6 squadrons of aircraft.”

I will pause here even though the chapter is not over. I think a clean break here before the Kennedy/Johnson Administration is necessary.
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This was a review/summary of the first decade or so of Pakistan-US relations, mostly focusing on the Ayub-Eisenhower exchange parts of Magnificent Delusions. The years discussed were 1951-1959. Part 3 should be up in a few days.

US-Pakistan: Magnificent Delusions: Part 1

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, The United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
by Husain Haggani. PublicAffairs. 413 pp.
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Learning about geopolitics, international affairs, and U.S. – and other countries – foreign policy has had a dramatic impact on how I think about politics; policy; propaganda; history; human beings; democracy; war; and so forth. The Pakistani-U.S relationship is one that I am drawn to particularly. It also has been one of the prime examples of what I just described because this relationship reveals so much. Learning about Pakistan-U.S. relations has colored how I think about 21st century life; and not just in strictly the political realm.

Former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, released Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding in 2013. There is a quote from Aesop’s Fables that begins the book that is worth reprinting here too because it distills this dynamic in a colorful way:

A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and we then know how to meet him. Aesop, Aesop’s Fables.

As with many U.S. contemporary relationships, the US-Pakistan relationship is one that developed during the Cold War; oh yes, the time period of the Bay of Pigs; Iran-Contra; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the failed coup in Chile, then the successful coup in Chile in 1973, for example. Another common theme: “The United States initially poured money and arms into Pakistan in the hope of building a major fighting force that could assist in defending Asia against communism,” writes Haqqani. Pakistan has also assisted the U.S. in its “war against terrorism” since 2001; albeit in a “half-hearted” way. The author, and former political prisoner of the Sharif government (1997-1999), writes that “radical Islam, Pakistan’s military, and US-Pakistan relations” have thoroughly transformed Pakistan’s trajectory. US-Pakistan are allies but “not friends” and he says both countries have divergent and separate interests. Also: This relationship “is a tale of exaggerated expectations, broken promises, and disastrous misunderstandings.”

The Nation-State of Pakistan is Only 70 Years Old: From 1947-onward
I intend to focus on the 21st century in my studies but Haqqani provides interesting details about the creation – a partition of British India into a Hindu state and a Muslim state – and evolution of the state of Pakistan. After the Indian partition of 1947, the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent were divided into thirds with one-third remaining in India; another third becoming Pakistan; and the last third which would eventually live in what is now Bangladesh, created in 1971. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, “expect[ed]” that the US would “build its economy and military in return for Pakistan mobilizing Muslim nations against the Soviet Union.” After WWII, American officials supported Indian independence from Britain but thought that dividing the subcontinent more by separating the Muslims and Hindus “opened the doors for perennial conflict.” American had no appetite for “conjuring a new Asian country based on religion,” observed historian Stanley Wolpert, writes Haqqani. Jinnah was persistent and he didn’t trust that 100 million Muslims would be adequately protected in India. “The original demand was for multiple independent state of Muslim-majority provinces of India,” reveals Haqqani.

Although Jinnah envisioned  a separate state for Muslims in South East Asia, including in his vision was a secular state: “In course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, in the political sense as citizens of the State,” he said in a speech. However, after Jinnah’s death in September 1948 from tuberculosis, in a reprint of this speech “the government republished [it] but excised” the aforementioned part of his secular state dreams. The Muslim populace now had dreams of their own for this state, for this state to be an Islamic one.

Partition was rough. Unlike what became India, Pakistan had no institutional infrastructure and “virtually no industry.” Pakistan received 30% of British India’s army, 40% of its navy, and 20% of its air force. Borders were not drawn in a way that Pakistan found fair. This led to war and conflict; conflict that – to this day – has been basically permanent. This also led to the orientation of the military as the dominant political player in Pakistan. A superpower ally was needed. Who would come to the rescue? Jinnah believed it would be England but he also had admiration for the United States.

Two Remain
Post-WWII saw two super powers emerge: the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Washington did not want to alienate India and they also were occupied with reconstruction and containing Soviet expansion. Jinnah made statements that made it clear he preferred U.S. aid and allyship; he had unkind words for communism and went on a charm offensive, sending envoys to the U.S. Pakistan sought a $2 billion loan for refugee help; the U.S. ended only providing 0.5% percent of that. Moreover, Pakistan also had a huge list of military needs. President Harry Truman was not taking the bait and an informal arms embargo, to both India and Pakistan, was enacted.

Internal Divide
Liberals in Pakistan wanted to shrink the military and hoped for industrial and technical help from Eastern Europe; leftists in Pakistan were skeptical of relying too much on the U.S. as it could “lead to ‘economic subjugation’ and ‘political tutelage to America’.” Government elites in Pakistan petitioned America for help in every imaginable way. There was even a campaign of fear, in a sense, designed to push Washington in the Pakistani direction. Therefore, U.S. diplomats were eager to listen. Fears of anti-Americanism due to its perceived support of Israel and of a “single remark in a news report” interpreted as American misunderstanding of what Pakistan was trying to create has precipitated “many US clarifications, explanations, and apologies,” that are continuing to this day. America early on was worried about increased fanaticism following the death of the founder. Succinctly put by Haqqni: “Pakistani public opinion was being shaped against the United States long before US foreign policy provided Pakistanis a reason for anti-Americanism.” The US felt, and it seemed to be true, more or less, that Pakistani elites leaned toward “the West” while leftists and populist movements “still considered western nations imperialistic.”

Quid pro Quo
Pakistan insisted to the Americans that they would seek the help of the Russians. One problem: the Soviet Union wasn’t all that interested. However, eventually through an Iranian mediator, Pakistan and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations. The US was also playing with different decks of cards. Publically, US officials made it clear that Pakistan was important. Simultaneously, a State Department memo to the White House argued that, perhaps, the most valuable asset of Pakistan is one of a parking lot for US aircraft. The memo warned to keep this on the down low “since it negates our oft-expressed interest in helping the region for economic reasons.” Remember: this was the beginnings of the Cold War where any- and everything goes.

New Delhi and Karachi met – a year apart – for meetings with US leaders. Pakistani media painted Liaquat’s, who would be the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, visit in nationalistic ways; Liaquat was there for business and fighting for arms, for ex., to bolster Pakistani integrity and security. The media painted him as an emerging nationalistic hero. Locals didn’t know that Liaquat drinked liked Westernerss – drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam. I learened from reading this excellent book that Liaquat promised to have no military at all if they could rely on American protection. This is huge. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was not about to make that promise. The Korean War was beginning and Pakistan promised support if, again, America would make a “unlimited” promise to them. America could not do this and insisted that they didn’t need Pakistani help. Besides, the U.S. argued, Pakistan should help under the responsibility of the UN Charter anyways. In the end, the U.S. did have the upper hand here and was not going to alienate India or Afghanistan. The Truman Adiminstration said that Washington was not “pro-Indian, pro-Israel nor anti-Muslim.” This is realpolitik, folks.

In the end of this beginning era of geopolitics that we now understand as the Cold War, the US State Department was finding India difficult to work with. Moreover, in 1951 Liaquat was assassinated by a local who found him un-Islamic. Liaquat was seen as the successor of Jinnah. Now: the future of Pakistan was in the air; with no charismatic leader emerging, things were about to get even messier.

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This was a review/summary of the beginnings of the historic creation of Pakistan and the partition of the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent parts of Magnificent Delusions. The years discussed were 1947-1951. Part 2 is now published. *If you see any mistakes, typos, plagiarism, etc., let me know. I’m writing this simply for self-understanding.*

on the First Republican Primary Debate of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

I watched the Fox News-hosted first Republican primary debate of the 2016 season and it was….alright. It was about what I expected only the candidates dialed down the crazy; at least rhetorically that is. And remember this is relative to past Republican primaries. Before I give my complete rundown, I’m gonna go over what some prominent thinkers and publications had to say, too.

The senior editor of the New Republic Jeet Heer tweeted: 

Heer also thought that the big losers were Bush and Walker. The editors of The Atlantic wrote that Rubio “gave one of the best performances of the night,” but they also thought that Jeb Bush made a strong impression. I have to agree with Chris Hayes, however, who tweeted: 

The impression I got from Bush was that of a stiff who literally was terrified of saying the wrong thing. He looked nervous and does not do well in the spotlight.

D.D. Guttenplan, for The Nation, opined that “…unless Trump self-destructs, the rich seam of anger opened by his campaign might well bring him back here next year as the GOP nominee. Because on the basis of their performance tonight no one on that stage is capable of stopping him.”

Chris Cillizza, on his “The Fix” column on The Washington Post online, trumpeted Marco Rubio and Donald Trump as the winners. His losers? Rand Paul and Scott Walker. The takeaway from his piece is that he never mentioned the words ‘Jeb’ or ‘Bush’. This brings me to my thoughts regarding last nights first Republican primary debate.

Winners

Donald Trump. The id and the base of the GOP loves him because he sounds just like them. Simply put, this is why I think he won because his xenophobic, misogynistic and hateful remarks are appealing to Republican primary voters. Moreover, he has to be a winner because many questions were based on responding to remarks that Trump made earlier. When your name is mentioned in as many questions as the Democratic frontrunner, you are doing well.

Chris Christie. He throws out numbers that are ostensibly true and he is viewed as a straight-shooter who at least has plans, policies, and is not afraid to get dirty. Looks like he is going for the 9/11 vote constituency which I didn’t realize was a thing anymore. I could have just wrote: see Trump above. I think this guy is one to worry about.

Marco Rubio. He scares me. I don’t wanna overstate this because it looks like people are but this guy can talk. Rubio is quick on his feet; he gives details; and he comes across as serious. He is probably one gaffe away from all of this following down but as of right now, he definitely comes across as someone who knows what’s going on. This is a true plus.

Losers

Jeb Bush. I think Jeb Bush lost because, in my opinion, any debate where he doesn’t steal the show and really reflect a serious candidate who can lead the country, is a loss for Bush. Bush said that we could grow our economy by “lift[ing] our spirits and hav[ing] high, lofty expectations for this great country of ours.” You think this type of performance against Hillary Clinton will amount to a win? Not a chance. Bush also comes across as one tough question away from basically throwing up his hands and saying: well, that’s all I got, folks. Take it or leave it. On a serious note: Bush proudly claiming that he defunded Planned Parenthood while Governor of Florida is going to seriously hurt him in the general election. Hillary will not let this slip. Also, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Florida ranks among the very bottom of all 50 states regarding women’s health.

Ben Carson. Carson knows his audience and he literally seemed like he memorized cultural warrior and right wing talking points and relied on the fact that this would be enough. Again, it might be what his audience wants to here (a co-worker FBed that she was voting for that guy and that she didn’t care what anyone thought) but he came across to the rest of us as someone stuck in a weird delusional twilight zone. Speaking of delusional:

Rand Paul. I don’t take most of these candidates seriously; I think they have no chance of winning a national election. Paul who, while still in those aforementioned camps, is someone who palpably makes my blood boil. He is dumb; proud of it; and is everyone’s libertarian uncle while simultaneously wanting to be the cool kid at the table so badly. He’s a charlatan and I’m glad that he did so poorly.

The United States of America. Need I say more? OK, I will. All of these candidates except for a few exceptions sound. the. exact. same. and. what. they. are. saying. is. horrifying.

Better luck next time

Mike Huckabee (who delivered the most gross line of the night: “The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.”).
John Kasich.
Scott Walker.
Ted Cruz (I think Cruz might be a sociopath.).