Tag Archives: foreign policy

Books: 2016

I present my favorite reads of 2016. Since I only read 4 books released last year, I will simply include in my list books that I read. In total, I finished 34 books and started many more.

6: The Way of the Knife:: the CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (2013) Mark Mazzetti, reporter for The New York Times

This book, by Pulitzer-prize winning Mark Mazzetti, has astonishing anecdotes, literally, on every page. I had my nephew pick a number from page one through 327 and voila – “two hundred” he says. “OSS founder William Donovan was so despondent that President Truman had not named him the first director of central intelligence he decided to set up an intelligence operation of his own. During business trips to Europe he collected information about Soviet activities from American ambassadors and journalists and scouted for possible undercover agents.” When President Truman was made aware of such private shenanigans, he was mad, “calling him a prying S.O.B.” One example from one random page, and it is a good one. I read this book along the way of researching for my final analysis of President Obama’s counterterrorism (CT) policy and the most pertinent quote from the president himself was: “The C.I.A. gets what it wants.” My question is: what president has skirted the power of CIA the most? A muckraking funny-if-it-wasn’t- true expose on the CIA. One con would be that it’s anecdote heavy and hard to pull together a comprehensive understanding of the complex-nature of Intelligence work, the CIA, and the various actors, individuals and states.

5:  Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (2016)
Branko Milanovic, Senior Scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center

A fresh, updated accounting on what we know about macroeconomics and what this portends for the future. Milanovic, reforms a classic theoretical understanding of inequality – the Kuznets curve – and coins the Kuznets wave. Succinctly put, inequality rises as economies develop yet the curve flattens out as education, for example spreads. Milanovic adds more lines to the curve and argues that inequality starts to increase once again in developed countries for various reasons, such as high-skilled and information-based job growth. This book is about (1) the rise of the global middle class; (2) the stagnation of the developed world’s middle class; (3) the rise of the global 1%. His prediction is gloomy: we will most likely see increased inequality because the current global climate to tackle this problem is wanting and the task arduous and global governance is limited. “Social separatism” is increasing and this portends a precarious future in our ever-globalizing world.

4: The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (2012)
Thomas Borstelmann, a Distinguished Professor of Modern World History at the University of Lincoln-Nebraska

I keep trying to formulate exactly when much of the world took a right-wing authoritarianism and extreme form; look at photos of Afghanistan in the 1950s-1960s for an example of what I’m conjuring up. I keep getting to 1979. Well, before said year the 1970s was a fascinating decade that so many positive strides regarding civil rights for black Americans and also women. Income inequality started rising precipitously for the developed world in the middle of the decade and the first Islamic revolution of the modern era happened, when the Shah in Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This global history, which really is American-centric, is a fantastic read. I think about this book all of the time. For readers of contemporary history, this is a good one that I stumbled upon while perusing the “sale” section at my local library.

3: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (2011)
Dani Rodrik, the Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

We read this book in my proseminar in globalization and out of the ten books we read, this book warranted the most discussion and “thumps up” bar none. Rodrik brilliantly excoriates, at times but with minimal vitriol – his fellow economists and their religious adherence to the Washington Consensus. He provides data to support his argument that some sort of embedded liberalism or a updated version of Bretton Woods is the most secure, fair, popular, and effective way for states to enter the developed strata of states. It’s in this book that he presents the trillemma: you can pick two, but only two. We can either live in a world of deep globalization and democracy; deep globalization and global governance; or global governance and democracy. Rodrik inclines

2: Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Edition (1999)
Graham Allison, Philip Zelikow, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Department of History at University of Virginia, respectively

This essential read for IR students is one I am grateful was assigned; I used the Rational Actor Model and the Governmental Politics model to compare the president’s counterterrorism policy for my capstone research paper. Along with Organizational Structure Model, these 3 frameworks are theoretical kingpins. The case study analyzed was the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was brilliantly done. Essence became the bedrock textbook and the impetus for opening the JFK School of Government at Harvard. If you want to know exactly how the insider process happens, and the complexity and complications of hundreds (now thousands) of actors involved in decisions, this is a great start. A foundational IR text from a heavyweight scholar, Allison, who has since penned many more books that are worth reading.

1: The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of Global Order (1996)
Samuel P. Huntington, co-founder of Foreign Policy; Professor at Harvard; president of the American Political Science Association (APSA)

I’m linking to my blog post where I opined my feelings of this work. Seminal work here.

Best book released in 2016

Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror
Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, NSA, and intelligence of the Air Force

Hayden has worked in the U.S. Intelligence community for decades and his part-memoir and part-current affairs review of the world we live in was my favorite memoir I read this year. For an intelligence official, the work was deeply honest, fair, and wide-ranging. The impression you get is of a big mind with big ideas and even bigger secrets; at once, a patriot who wishes he could tell Americans more but he can’t, for their security. I have been going through government official memoirs – I’ve only read a few so far – and this might be my favorite, though Chollet’s and Brooks’ are close. (I haven’t finished Brooks’ yet therefore it can’t be on this list but it’s damn good.)

I’m looking forward to reading so many more works next year – I hope to even finish listening to Moby-Dick!

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The Future of Power

I think many conflicting, and seemingly incompatible phenomenon can exist – can be true – at the same time. I just read a book that reveals that nominal paradox in great detail. “The world is neither unipolar, multipolar, nor chaotic – it is all three at the same time,” ends the highly compelling The Future of Power.

The Future of Power by Joseph S. Nye, Distinguished Professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, is quite encompassing and packs a punch that is more than it’s relatively short page length (234 pages). This book is an ambitious work. Dissecting the power zeitgeist in a hyper-globalized world is not an easy task. In particular, Nye examines America’s stature and role in the world. In examining the future of power relations between, within, and among states, NGOS, and individuals, Nye paints a complicated and complex picture.

Power is transitioning away from the U.S. but it is not going to one other country or entity; and it certainly isn’t transitioning away rapidly at all. No one country will be more economically powerful than the U.S. for the next 25 years. Further: the next leading power is the EU which is comprised of 28, or so, allies. The U.S. is going to be fine, especially if the U.S. “rediscover[s] how to be a smart power.” What is smart power?

Smart Power

Nye defines and redefines and references many international relations (IR) terms such as hegemony; soft power; and realism. He coins – or effectively brings to the market of ideas at the very least – a new term for power-measuring in the twenty-first century: smart power. Smart power is “liberal realism.” Smart power, for the U.S., is the “understanding of the strength and limits of American power.” Moreover: The U.S. should “develop an integrated grand strategy that combine[s] hard power with soft attractive power.” Finally, we should lead by example and “encourage liberal democracy and human rights at home and abroad where feasible at reasonable levels of cost,” that also “encourage[s] the gradual evolution of democracy but in a manner that accepts the reality of diversity.” Got it?

Nye likened the state of power relations to a 3D chess game. Dimension 1: Interstate military power is highly concentrated in the U.S. Dimension 2: Interstate economic power “is distributed in a multipolar manner among the U.S., the EU, Japan, and the BRICs.” Finally, Dimension 3: “Issues power such as climatic, terror, and pandemics is “highly diffused.”

According to the State Department, smart power is “the intelligent integration and networking of diplomacy, defense, development, and other tools of so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power.”

Nye does a great job of highlighting real examples and evidence of arbitrary and circular understandings or ideas. Nye also gives examples of how the world stage is also comprised of other actors, such as corporations and individuals, that now wield power.

Can smaller states utilize smart power?
Look at Singapore engaging in “active sponsorship of diplomatic activities in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),” while also becoming a regional military power.

An example of a non-government individual of having and using soft power? Nye’s example: In 2007, film producer Steven Spielberg, in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, “sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao to use its influence to push Sudan to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.” It worked when “years of diplomacy could not.” Spielberg recognized the position China was in, and succeeded in his attempt at persuasion. That is soft power in an individual.

I think the best part of the book is just how much importance Nye allows to the Information Revolution. I certainly agree with this. Globalization is an information-based creation. A major reason we are seeing this power diffusion is the Internet. A tension exists between privacy and security; and there is a really good chapter regarding the cyberworld contained within this book.

We are just now really beginning to understand the battle we are in regarding the cyber realm. The Internet is Real.

Compare/Contrast – Moon & Sun:

In 2010, one poll found that 61% of poll respondents thought the country was in decline and only 19% trusted the government. …Over the past few decades, public confidence has dropped in half for major institutions.” [Nye Jr., 2011]

Meanwhile…

75% of Americans feel connected to their communities and say the quality of life there is excellent or good. According to a Pew poll, 111 million Americans say they volunteer their time to solve problems in their communities in the previous 12 months, and 60 million volunteered on a regular basis. 40 % said working together with others in their community was the most important thing they could do.” [Nye Jr., 2011]

Conclusion

Nye’s conclusion is an slightly optimistic one for us: “The United States is unlikely to decay like ancient Rome or even to be surpassed by another state, including China.” He continues: This is “not a narrative of decline.” Power is always shifting and evolving (and devolving, perhaps?) and American hegemony may be a thing of the past. Power transition is happening but not as rapid or in one direction as many argue. Perhaps China will be the next Soviet or Japan: the supposed next great power that settles for regional dominance.

As a careful analyst as he is, he knows the future is not predetermined: “There are a range of possible futures, not one.”

Americans might think that America is entering an era of decay but America is still quite the world power; just not quite as powerful as in the past, that is all. I must say that this book holds up remarkable well for being 5 years old. The U.S. dollar is still king. Check out the great Milton Ezrati on the primacy of the economic power of the U.S. in The National Interest. The U.S. dollar “is by far the world’s most traded currency, involved in 87 percent of all global currency exchanges, up from 85 percent in 2010,” in 2015 he writes. “For now the dollar remains supreme, ” exclaims the economist. America is the strongest individual country in the world.

Nye’s book is a must read for students of international affairs; in particular, for those interested in America’s role in the world; for those interested in China’s rise; and last but not least, those interesting in theory. You can’t understand the world, unless you understand power in all of its multifaceted faces.

Illustrative Example of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I like illustrative examples; specific actions that can symbolize an entire….administration, or decade, or era, or an individuals temperament, for example. Here is good example of what I’m talking about regarding President Obama’s Syrian dilemma. In 2012:

“Obama did ask his military and intelligence chiefs to come up with plans to speed history along, and in the summer of 2012, CIA Director David Petraeus laid out a scheme to arm a group of “moderate” Syrian rebels. The plan, which Petraeus had formulated with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan and a few other Arab security chiefs, called for shipping small arms, mainly rifles, to a small, select group of the Syrian opposition. …The plan had the backing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and the Joints Chiefs of Staff. But the president rejected it.

“This was not a winning argument with Obama: he was looking for something that had a chance of succeeding in the near term, and he did not want skin in a game played in the quagmire of a sectarian civil war. While Petraeus was working up the plan, Obama asked the CIA to produce a paper on how often in the past U.S. arms had succeeded in helping rebels oust hostile governments. The answer: not very often. That sealed the case.”

Fred Kaplan, in an well-written essay of Obama’s foreign policy dichotomy between theory and practice, mentions that Obama was worried that this would also drag Iran more into the mix. Kaplan argues that Obama’s preferred tools were – “words, logic, persistent questions, and sequential problem solving.” In a world like this one: good luck, Mr. President.

In 2014:

“In any case, two years later, Obama approved a similar plan. However, when the American-backed rebels started racking up victories on the battlefield and appeared to be closing in on Assad, Obama’s prediction of what would happen next came true: the Iranians redoubled their support for Assad, sending Quds Force soldiers to fight the rebels. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, fearing the loss of Moscow’s sole outpost outside the former Soviet Union, sent tanks, planes, and missiles to support the Syrian army.”

Obama’s foreign policy motto could be: In any case.

This isn’t an attack on President Obama, by the way, more of an assessment on the difficulties of making decisions in an anarchic world. It has been repeated, like a mantra, that in politics, your choices are all horrible. This also illustrates the outsider/insider bias/dichotomy. Outside and without any power, it’s easy to condemn and to say you would have done X over Y if you were in power. Inside: you must make a decision based on imperfect information and the possible black swans, or simple spillover effects, are unknown.

#BrookingsDebate: Is the JCPOA Deal Between the P5+1 a good or bad deal?

I have read the JCPOA, or “The Nuclear Iranian Deal” and I have read many analyses regarding the deal, as well. Last night, Brooking’s had a debate regarding the deal. The proponents of the deal were Suzanne Maloney and Bruce Riedel – both Senior Fellows at the Brookings Institution. The opponents were the senior Senator John McCain – Republican from Arizona and Leon Wieseltier, who is the Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow on Culture and Policy.

Some Thoughts on the #BrookingsDebate

McCain: Blabble, babble, and blah. (“Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,” remember that?) Also: Red Herrings. Non-sequiturs. Seriously, Senator McCain did not say a whole lot that he hasn’t said before; also, he didn’t say anything that my mother’s boyfriend hasn’t said regarding politics. McCain appealed to fear and didn’t really have a cohesive or strong argument.

Maloney: Well, she has read the deal and basically just delineates it as such. Her take on the alternative choices are all valid, too. Maloney demonstrates a strong grasp of all of the relevant actors – U.S., Israel, Iran, Russia, the American public, for example – and does so in a very serious non-partisan way.

Wieseltier: You can see why he is considered a public intellectual. Very smart words. But more suitable for a good polemical piece in The New Republic or the New York Review of Books than actually addressing the deal as a policy. I enjoy listening to this man speak, though.

Riedel: He explained the facts on the ground in a very practical way. Referencing the former Mossad agent was particularly important and an interesting way of thinking about it: Israel benefits in this deal in particular. Iran prior to the deal, theoretically, was a couple of months away – for all we know – from enrichment levels that could be used in a bomb. Now: not so much. The U.S. now has more leverage if Iran does cheat. Riedel mentioning just how superior of a power that Israel is, thanks to us, for the most part, is was particularly refreshing and honest. Israel is and will continue to flying the latest military jets; Iran – not so much. The international community also has more leverage. Neither McCain or Wieseltier addressed Riedel’s points at all.

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I think this agreement is about realizing that Iran is and will be a regional power and one that will be more stable than Saudi Arabia, for example. This is a hedge on our current relationships with an eye on the future layout of the region. Gideon Rose says when he teaches polsci his polsci 101 rule is this: All policy choices are bad; some are worse than others. If you want to look at it in this way then the key is that this deal is more towards the bad side of the spectrum and not the absolutely horrible side. In my opinion, there is much to applaud in the agreement; in particular, the IAEA inspections and the Iranian commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Former Secretary of State, and #2016 presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton responded to the Iranian deal today, at Brookings. Her speech was very hawkish and she reconfirmed the U.S.’s commitment to Israel and that all options were on the table including military force on Iran if they cheat. Regardless of what any of us think, it looks like the Iranian deal will go through. (Edit: “Senate Dems Block GOP Measure to Kill Iran Deal,” Kim & Everett, POLITICO, September, 10, 2015.)

A Brief Primer on: US Drone Strikes

HuffPost going hard: “A Drone Program That Has Killed Hundreds Of Civilians Finally Killed Some That The White House Regrets,” by Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim.

What follows is some of my thoughts and info that I am aware of regarding drones.

American drone strikes are something that we as a nation do not like to really talk about. We have conducted at least five confirmed drone strikes in 2015 alone. In 2014: 22 confirmed drone strikes (New America, 2015). Moreover, according to PEW and Gallup, Americans tend to support an aggressive foreign policy regarding potential terrorists around the world. To many this debate is over: the U.S. can and should do whatever it takes in this ever-expanding power-vacuum-creating War on Terror. So what if this (or these, potentially) “kill list(s)” grows and grows. What’s the worst that could happen?

In the wake of 9/11, fear became – once again – a dominant political and social force. A ontological phenomenon, if I may say so myself. It’s often been said that a scared population tends to value security – or what they’re being sold as security – over civil liberties, or human rights, for example. History abounds this notion. But does the public and the government, even know who we are killing?

“We’re in a new kind of war,” claimed then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice shortly after America’s first drone strike; which was conducted in 2002 in the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen (Scahill, 2013). Rice would go on to be a persistent vocal supporter of setting us this targeted killing regime. Many critics of drones see them as extra-judicial executions in violation of international human rights law. And by critics I mean everyone from constitutional law scholars, the United Nations, civil liberty and human rights groups, and every day Pakistani, Yemeni, and American citizens. Opponents of drone strikes have well….really good arguments, all around.

The U.S. government has used drones strikes that have killed thousands of people in this last decade during our “War on Terror.” This is on top of the millions of total casualties in the Iraq, Pakistani, and Afghanistan military adventures since 2002 in what can properly be called total war. There has been award winning documentaries produced about our expanded global war that two subsequent administrations, the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration, have started and escalated, respectively. Since Obama, we are now conducting military and intelligence operations in over 100 countries and drone strikes are being conducted by the military and by the CIA. The Obama administration has even constructed a secret air base in Saudi Arabia, to conduct drone strikes(Scahill, 2013).

It is terribly important that the public knows that 8 American citizens – confirmed by the state – have been killed in drone strikes so far. It’s also surreal that, as professor Micah Zenko, currently the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) writes: “The United States simply does not know who it is killing” (ForeignPolicy, 2014). Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with warheads that drop Hell Fire missiles on people in the likes of Pakistan, Somalia (East Africa Al Qaeda cell), Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. Jeremy Scahill writes about how CIA agents, after the aforementioned first strike in Yemen in 2002, “went to examine the aftermath of the strike and to obtain DNA samples from the dead.” Post-mortem is when we really start caring about identifying just who we are killing. Sometimes we drop a bomb on wedding parties. In Somalia, “AC-130 attacks resulted in a shocking number of Somali civilians being killed,” illuminates Scahill. Oxfam warns that the U.S. is ignoring the international mandate to distinguish between military and civilian targets (Scahill, 2013). We don’t know who we are killing, and it honestly doesn’t seem like we really care. Former White House Press Secretary and now MSNBC correspondent, Robert Gibbs is on record saying of one drone victim that he should have had a better father if he didn’t want to be killed by a drone strike in Yemen (Friedersdorf, 2012).

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued many “white papers” with their legal justification for what they do. They often point out that high-level al-Qaeda and affiliate group members are who is targeted. Moreover, the U.S. does not consider drone strikes to be assassinations; they consider them to be “conducted according to the ‘law of war principles’“ (Isikoff, 2013) as well. Media reports paint a different picture: CNN reported on the fact that “a White House evaluation of drone strikes in summer 2011 found that ‘the CIA was primarily killing low-level militants” (Bergen and Rowland, 2012). As “The Civilian Impact Report” issued by the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School in conjunction with the Center for Civilians in Conflict eloquently states: “When the scope of who may be targeted enlarges, the chance that civilians will be caught in the crossfire increases” (2012). The U.S. military and the CIA often do not completely know who they are killing when they issue drone strikes. This has humanitarian implications. This has legal and constitutional implications.

I appreciate the Huffington Post responding this way: A recent drone strike killed two Western hostages, once from Italy and one from the United States, and suddenly we feign concern regarding strikes that have killed thousands of people, including 16 year old Colorado-born Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of the once moderate turned radical jihadist cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. He, too, was killed in an earlier drone strike. (Samir Khan as well.) I’m not saying these former two aren’t horrible people who wanted to kill American civilians; they are and they did. I’m saying that it’s way more complicated and grey than that. I’m saying that this drone issue is a crisis and we as a country really need to understand what is going on. I’m saying that at least 172 children have been killed

Seriously, if you have devoted little time to our disastrous foreign policy, I highly recommend reading Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill and also watching the documentary version as well. Chomsky has been great on this issue too; Zenko has been critical and informative as well.

Other quality sources to learn about U.S. counter terrorism (CT) policy: Brookings, CATO, Helene Cooper & Mona El-Naggar, Dissent, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been an invaluable source as well. New America has compiled good data. The Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School has studied the issue; “The Civilian Impact of Drones,” is one of their most substantive publications regarding them.

Hope this was kind of informative and I hope the hyperlinks can set you in a good direction to learn more about this.