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Obama’s Moscow Summit – Which Way to START? July 5, 2009

Posted by SV in Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are meeting in Moscow to discuss a successor to the soon-to-expire Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).  On the table for consideration (according to U.S. and/or Russian officials) are levels of deployed and stockpiled strategic nuclear warheads, strategic delivery systems (intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, and bombers), and missile defense.  Off the table are nonstrategic (short-range) nuclear weapons, which the Russians hold in abundance.

Truly understanding the situation between Washington and Moscow requires a brief look at the numbers.  The United States deploys around 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads (and ~ 2,500 reserves) on less than 1,000 missiles and bombers.  Russia deploys about 2,700 strategic nuclear warheads (and thousands in reserve) on roughly 650 missiles and bombers.  In nonstrategic nukes, Russia holds a massive advantage (3,000-5,000) over the United States (400-500).  In terms of strategic delivery systems, the U.S. still has decades before most of its systems will need replaced, while many Russian systems will reach the end of their service lives within the next decade, reducing their numbers to around 330.

The Obama Administration, in its rush to conclude the START follow-on by the current treaty’s expiration date on December 5th, is therefore playing into the Russians’ hands.  By pushing for deep warhead cuts (the Russians will not go below 1,500 deployed) and considering a further reduction in the permitted number of strategic delivery vehicles, U.S. negotiators are essentially getting nothing for something.  Since the Russians will have to eliminate many of their aging warheads, missiles, and bombers with or without an arms control treaty, they are trying to maintain parity with the United States through a new START accord.  In return, the U.S. is getting something it would have gotten without having to reduce the survivability and flexibility of its nuclear arsenal.

Until recently, the Obama Administration was seemingly giving credence to Russian objections to a third missile defense site in Central Europe.  Even former Secretary of Defense (and nuclear abolitionist) William Perry (D) stated in House testimony that trading missile defense for Russian promises was absolutely unreasonable.  The president’s special assistant, Michael McFaul, stated last week the U.S. was “not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense.”  This is a step in the right direction.  Tying defensive conventional systems to offensive nuclear systems, which President Medvedev is still insisting on, is a relic of the Cold War “mutually assured destruction” thinking.

Therefore, the U.S. approach to the START follow-on has been fundamentally flawed.  By agreeing not to include nonstrategic nuclear weapons in the limits, the U.S. allowed Russia to maintain its biggest geopolitical advantage.  Many experts believe it is these “battlefield” nuke stockpiles that will be the likely source of any future nuclear terrorism or nuclear use by a state (Russia explicitly states they would be used to “de-escalate” an invasion of their homeland).  Furthermore, once U.S. warhead and delivery system levels have been drastically reduced, Washington will little leverage to urge Moscow to reduce its tactical nukes.

The arms control process is also misguided in the link some are attempting to make between a new START and “global zero,” the nuclear abolitionist movement.  The bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission determined that complete nuclear disarmament required a “fundamental transformation of the world political order.”  Guiding a new treaty along what optimists consider a decades-long goal is a recipe for miscalculation and bad decisions.  The Obama Administration needs to take a step back, assess U.S. interests over the long term, and proceed with a modest START follow-on from there.  Idealism is one thing.  Dealing with the Russians about nuclear weapons is entirely different.

Two Roads to Tehran February 3, 2009

Posted by SV in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Middle East, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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What is to be done about Iran?  It has continued to defy the international community as it enriches uranium for its purportedly “peaceful” nuclear program.  It has continued to support international terrorist movements and instigated and supplied violence against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It has continued its long-range missile program – just today it launched a satellite into orbit (see here), a crucial step on its way to developing a ballistic missile that can reach all of Europe.  Its president is a demagogue of the worst kind that denies the Holocaust, calls for wiping Israel off the map, and is a millenarian “Twelver.”

After almost a decade of diplomacy, threats of military action, isolation, and almost every other negotiating strategy conceivable, the US is no closer to getting Iran to halt its uranium enrichment, let alone dismantle its nuclear program (it should be noted that the difference between a civilian and military nuclear program is negligible; it only takes several months from the point they enrich uranium to “reactor-grade” to the point it becomes “weapons-grade,” provided they have enough centrifuge cascades).  There are therefore three options for dealing with Iran left to the United States.  We can either continue to do what we have been doing (nothing, essentially), and thus little will change.  The other two options are (seemingly) even more distasteful, but merit attention.

The first is to conduct conventional air strikes followed on by ground invasion and occupation.  A veritable cottage industry of books about why this is impossible have been written, but they all derive from the same assumptions.  They assume that it will be a military action like Iraq – that it will be sanctioned by Congress through a resolution permitting the use of force, that it will utilize the current military we have (and rely principally on air strikes, which won’t destroy the entire nuclear program), and that the US will not “mobilize” for the war.  Yes, from those assumptions, the use of force would not only be unwise, but practically impossible.  Iran has a population 3 times and a land area 4 times that of Iraq.  In power capability, however, it is still less than Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or the Soviet Union.  The US could defeat it if we so chose.

Such an option would require the US to formally declare war, through Congress, in order to give it the legitimacy and public backing that the conflict with Iraq lacked.   It would require a drastic expansion of the armed services, but, since it would be a formal state-to-state war sanctioned by Congress, it is probable that there would be a significant spike in volunteering, with only a moderate chance that a draft would be needed.  The mission would be clear, to remove all fissile materials, uranium enrichment equipment, and long-range ballistic missiles from Iran.  The United States could, through sacrifice and determination, mobilize for that effort and see it through to a successful conclusion.

The likely costs, however, may well outweigh the benefits.  United Nations and international criticism aside, there are other significant costs to the US.  For one, it is likely that the younger generation of Iranians, many of whom are pro-Western or at least supportive of closer ties with the US, may be turned against the United States for another thirty years.  The public of Iran, though it may not agree with its president’s statements, is overall very supportive of the nuclear program and wants to see Iran reascend to its role as a regional great power.  The occupation would be long and difficult, and probably resemble postwar occupations of Germany (longevity) and Iraq (violence).   Iran would undoubtedly unleash its terrorist cadres on US allies (Israel, EU) and on the American homeland.  The disruption in oil markets by effectively closing off the Gulf would damage economies (notably Japan) and spike prices (leading to rationing, no doubt).  Any progress that Washington thinks it might have made with the Islamic world would, almost certainly, be lost.  While not “unacceptable,” it looks likely that a military option may be the most miserable one to take.

The second option therefore is to try to reach a diplomatic bargain with Tehran.  It is a bargain because each side would compromise and get something in return, which differs from the past US policy of demanding Iran take certain actions with little or no incentive for accommodation.  This is the preferred policy if you accept that Iran will inevitably develop a nuclear program (and likely) a nuclear weapon, or at least the capability to construct one on short notice.  Recognizing that air strikes will only set the Iranian program back a few years (at most) and that anything short of a ground invasion will likely cause them to redouble their efforts, it makes sense that the US should at least try to get something in return if Iran is to go nuclear.

What type of grand bargain could the US hope to strike?  The Obama Administration has already tried to start low-level discussions (see here) in order to talk with Tehran directly about its nuclear program.  However, it is likely that the objective remains to get Iran to halt its uranium enrichment and comply with IAEA inspections under the terms of the NPT.  The time by which Iran could be expected to halt its uranium enrichment, however, has come to pass.  It has almost no incentive to halt enrichment and no incentive to contemplate giving up its nuclear program, which it is legally entitled to.  Reaching a deal in which Iran is allowed its nuclear program, therefore, is what is necessary to normalize Washington-Tehran relations.

What could a possible bargain look like?  In exchange for allowing Iran to continue its nuclear program and even offering technical assistance, provision of materials, and lifting sanctions, Iran would give the US tangible benefits in return.  The US would have as part of the deal that Iran halt its support of international terrorism (or encourage its proxies to enter the political process) and stop stirring up insurgent violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The US should also try to get something concrete and beneficial in return, such as exclusive oil and natural gas exploration rights for US companies for the next 50 years.  This compromise could bring the Washington and Tehran closer together to work on regional stability.  The US could possibly even leverage Iranian energy exports against China.  If (and when) Pakistan implodes, Iran will prove to be a necessary ally to maintain US influence in the region.  There is no reason why the United States and Iran cannot cooperate as regional allies, or at the very least as non-strategic partners.  This posture will even allow the US to keep the lid on any possible future Iranian-Israeli conflict by making both countries feel secure that the other is kept in line by Washington.

Though these are obviously not the only two options for taking action to deal with Iran, they seem to offer the best chances of success over the long-term.  Both are bad options (invasion and a nuclear-armed Iran), but I believe the latter is the least miserable option for the US to pursue.  Time and space did not permit me to offer the costs that would result from the bargain option, so feel free to post comments or critiques.  It is likely, due to bureaucratic imperatives and special interests, that neither option will be employed, that the US will continue to “muddle through” with Iran.  Then, when Iran develops or tests a nuclear weapon, the US will have received nothing in return, and the region will be extremely destabilized due to risk of Israeli attack, nuclear proliferation, and Iranian hegemony.  In a situation with no clear solution, sometimes you have to accept what you thought before was unacceptable.

Upcoming Essays November 12, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Democracy, Election 2008, Politically Incorrect Blog, President Bush, President Obama, U.S. Government.
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I’ve been extremely busy this week, but over the next few days I’ll be posting several more essays.  You can look forward to the following topics:

Why I’m Glad I’m Not the Next President:  The Overwhelming Crises Facing Barack Obama

Leader, Warrior, President:  How Future Generations Will View Bush’s Legacy

The Days After:  The Economic Realities of an Obama Presidency

President v. Party:  How Barack Obama’s Election Bodes Ill for the Democratic Party

While they should all be interesting to those following the recent election and the end of the Bush presidency, I’m particularly excited about the latter two.  Hopefully it’ll be good stuff.  I’ll keep everyone posted.

Obamania the Day After November 6, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Election 2008, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, Republican Party, U.S. Government.
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Congratulations, Democrats.  After eight years, you and your party have seized control of the White House with Senator Barack Obama’s victory over Republican Senator John McCain on Tuesday.  Throw this in with your increased majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and you must feel like you are flying on top of the world.  In fact, with all the outpouring of love for America expressed since the election, you may very well be doing just that.  Just think of the circumstances.  The first black American President?  Check.  A sweeping endorsement of liberal control of the country?  Check.  Your biggest opponent, the hated GOP, reeling and searching for answers?  Check. 

                So break out the glasses and pop open the bubbly – after all, nothing can stand in your way now, right?  Now is the time to push for social equality, increase taxes on the rich and give generously to the poor.  Pack the Supreme Court with liberal-minded judges who will uphold Roe v. Wade and stop pesky Justices like Scalia and Roberts in their tracks.  Now that Bush is gone, we can bring home the soldiers to well-earned confetti and parades, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in one fell swoop.  After all, if we’re not over there, the problem should take care of itself, right?  Now is the time for Obama to start implementing all those wonderful promises he made while crisscrossing the nation over the last few months, correct?

                Not quite. 

 

There are a number of reasons why Democrats and other liberals will be disappointed during Obama’s initial work in the Oval Office. (more…)

Up From the Ashes – The Republican Party’s Chance for a Renewed Lease on Life November 5, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Democracy, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S. Government.
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As Americans wake on the morning of November 5th, they awake in a country on the verge of a new era.  With the landslide victory of President-elect Barack Obama, who enters office with significant majorities in both the House and the Senate, Americans have spoken, and spoken loudly.  The Republican administration of lame-duck President George W. Bush has been swept from office as U.S. citizens voiced their concerns that the GOP was no longer in touch with the average American.

                However, despite the humiliating defeat, the Republican Party is far from dead.  Indeed, in the long run, a crushing defeat at the hands of Obama and his allies may be exactly what the GOP needs to spring back into national power.  Although the defeat and future power seem contradictory, one realizes that the idea isn’t so far-fetched when we recall how far astray from its “roots” the Republican leadership has gone over the last eight years.  Abandoning the old mainstays of fiscal responsibility, small government, and increased rights to private individuals, the GOP in many respects had become the thing it feared most – the Democratic Party.  For all intents and purposes, the parties, at least in Congress, had become indistinguishable.  By assuming power, the Republicans in Congress and the White House permitted absolute power, especially in the wake of broad support following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, to transform them into big government, drunk on power and unlimited funding.  By forsaking their roots, the Republicans set the stage for the major upsets in the last two elections.

                But now that they are removed from power, the Republican Party and its leaders can return to what made them popular in the first place.  The environment for a victory in two years in the next national election is perfect for conservatives, who, if they play their cards right and get a little help from the Democrats, could provide a stunning comeback.  Let’s take a look at the opportunities:

-              An inexperienced, untested President taking office with enormous expectations.  Republicans must exploit any mistakes by Obama in his first months in office.  If Obama opens negotiations with Iran, or backpedals in the face of pressure from North Korea, China, Russia, or Venezuela, the GOP has a fantastic opportunity to show that Obama is weak when it comes to foreign policy.  Likewise, the domestic decisions that Obama makes in his first two years as president could have significant ramifications for the economy, the health system, and social policy, and he must tread lightly and ignore the obvious mistake of liberalizing too much too quickly, or he and his party will quickly burn through the political currency they gained yesterday.

-              A faltering economy.  The overwhelming focus of voters, the economy continues to struggle while the government seems helpless to solve the credit crunch, the enormous (and crippling) housing mortgage crisis, and a slipping dollar.  The country may be on the verge of significant inflation, yet the government continues to find new ways to pour money into the economy.  Obama plans sweeping tax changes and has promised to pour upwards of sixty billion dollars into the nation’s infrastructure.  Unfortunately, the United States probably can’t afford such action, at least not now. 

-              Increasing domestic divisiveness.  Socially, conservatives and liberals in the United States continue to go their separate ways.  Obama takes office with a significant portion of the country extremely distrustful of his motives and potential (which is nothing new for any president).  However, he will have to be careful not to offend large segments of voters, or, like the 2006 national elections, citizens will treat him as they treated President Bush and his unpopular Iraq War.

-              A global security nightmare.  War in the Congo.  Continued crisis in Dafur.  An aggressive Russia unresponsive to global scrutiny.  A war going well in Iraq.  A war not going well in Afghanistan.  Osama bin Laden still unaccounted for.  Mr. Obama must find ways to protect Americans from a second 9/11.  However, he must also judiciously approach foreign crises as well.  The United States is uniquely prepared to go into other countries to stop calamities like genocide or famine.  Obama must continue the United State’s role as a global policeman while still avoiding getting mired in another long war in a country that doesn’t fully support our own end goals.

                All these issues point clearly to opportunities for the Republican Party to seize on mistakes by the Obama administration and his supporters in Congress.  A major mishandling of a crisis by Obama would go a long way to bringing the GOP back into power.  However, Republicans must also reinvent their image as a party of the people, rather than a party of the government.  If they can project a new understanding of responsibility and empathy, they should be poised, at the very least, to take back some of the lost seats of Congress.  I suggest three ways to help the Republicans get back on track.

                First, the Republican Party must recreate themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility.  This is a no-brainer.  The Bush administration has become famous for its liberal spending policies, which inevitably led to increased government debt and certainly did not help the country avoid the recession that even now wracks the economy.  This spending is not reminiscent of your grandparents’ Republican party.  With nearly every state struggling economically, schools scrambling to make ends meet, and individuals watching their savings dissolve, it is shocking that Americans have so little faith in Republicans that they turn to a party that is known for its spending excess.  The GOP CANNOT miss this golden opportunity to push towards decreased government.  People don’t want to spend more money on taxes – they want to save and have the government help provide things like education, energy, and infrastructure.  Resume the push for small government and fiscal responsibility, and the Republicans will have taken a major step towards success.

                Second, the GOP must begin rebuilding bridges with the media.  Yes, everyone knows that the media is indeed biased (except, it seems, the media itself), but news outlets continue to hold enormous sway over voters.  Indeed, it is a testament that President Bush was able to be elected despite extreme negative treatment by the media.  Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was incredibly popular with news organizations, and he used those ties to his advantage.  While pandering to the media is not an activity the GOP would like to do, it cannot escape the fact that it will not be successful unless it can somehow gain respect, if not love, from media outlets.  There is no doubt that Barack Obama was a media darling during the 2008 elections.  Republicans must pull a page from the Democrats’ book and use the media as a tool to achieve success, rather than battle reporters and cameras at every outlet.

                Finally, and most importantly, the GOP must show that it is a party of and for the people.  Too many people criticize Republicans for being aloof and “above” the average citizen.  Democrats got involved with the people who would vote for them and got their hands dirty campaigning.  Republicans recently have failed to engage voters on a personal level, showing that they understand the economic and social woes of the everyday family.  Without this personal engagement and a clear understanding of what most people are going through, or knowing what the goals and beliefs of the average citizen are, the Republicans cannot gain the support of voters.  Rectifying this problem would be a significant achievement.

               While Republicans are (and should be) disappointed by the results of the 2008 election, there is hope on the horizon.  The GOP must seize on Democratic mistakes and effectively take the place of the Democratic Party as the political entity most in touch with voters.  By taking advantage of knowing WHY they lost this election, the Republican Party can set itself up to avoid another failure in 2010.

President Obama – Senator Barack Obama Takes White House November 4, 2008

Posted by Adam Nowland in Election 2008, Politics, President Bush, President Obama, U.S. Government.
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To the exuberant celebration of Democrats and liberals across the United States, and to the dismay of conservatives around the country, Senator Barack Obama (D – Illinois), the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, swept into power November 4th, defeating his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R – Arizona).  As polls around the country closed Tuesday evening, the major news networks wasted no time declaring state after state for Obama and his running mate, Senator Joe Biden (D – Delaware).  Preliminary data indicated that President-elect Obama would have no problem reaching the number of electoral votes required to seal his victory, a result which likely surprised very few of the pundits and analysts deciphering polls and results.

                After eight tumultuous years under the administration of President George W. Bush, many Americans were ready for a new direction, and eagerly snapped up Obama’s campaign slogan “Change We Can Believe In,” hoping that electing a liberal Democrat would help stem the tide of anti-American sentiment sweeping the globe and help solve a myriad of other problems ravaging the country.  Bush’s administration oversaw two seemingly endless and unpopular wars in Asia, watched as the global economy entered its worst struggle in years, and angered many millions of people around the globe by taking what was regarded as a unilateral approach in American foreign policy, taking significant action in other parts of the globe without seeking the consultation or assistance of other nations.

                The result was a President with the lowest approval rating of his time in office, and indeed one of the worst approval ratings of any recent Commander-in-Chief.  Similarly, the U.S. Congress has been saddled with an approval rating of barely half of that of the President, shocking when one considers the unpopularity of President Bush, and even more shocking when one remembers that it is controlled not by the Republicans, but Democrats.  Even the most casual observer of the American government can conclude that voters are fed up with the way the government is being run.  Regardless of one’s views of the effectiveness of the current administration and Congress, it is clear that those men and women entering office in 2009 face substantial, if not overwhelming, challenges.

                Indeed, it is a significant show of faith on the part of voters to elect a President who has yet to complete even a single term of office as a senator, and one who brings a considerable lack of experience as well as tremendous expectations with him to the Oval Office.  Obama holds the distinction of becoming the first African-American to ever hold the country’s highest office, a major step forwards for minorities in the United States, but he will be under close scrutiny from both those who voted for him and those who opposed him.  Obama must demonstrate that he can effectively do the job of leading the world’s greatest nation, and prove that he was justifiably elected because of his abilities and not just because people saw his race as a chance to vote for something different.  Obama is smart enough to put race behind him all together, but there are still enormous numbers of Americans who voted for him simply because he was black, or against him for the same reason.  Each of those votes for or against was a form of racism in and of themselves, and Obama must rise above such a dangerous idea.

                In addition to his achievement of being the first black man to be elected President, Obama will also have to face the challenging problems of the economy, the national deficit, America’s declining status in global policy-making and popularity, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, problems with the national health system, Social Security, and the all-encompassing “War on Terror.”  Each of these problems is significant, and most cannot be controlled singularly from the White House.  Obama has the support of a heavily Democratic Congress, which will enable him to accomplish a great deal for at least two years, if not more, but such power is also a curse.  The President-elect will have no excuses if he cannot find solutions for many of these problems.  In fact, Obama runs the risk of making some of these problems worse by tampering with plans that are already in the works.  For example, then-Senator Obama strongly opposed the Iraq “surge” when more American troops were sent to the Middle East to help secure the new Iraqi government.  Mr. Obama’s fears proved to be false when the surge was decidedly effective, but if he chooses to immediately draw down American forces to appease his electors upon taking office, the situation in the tentatively quiet region could again spiral out of control.  Obama will need to tread cautiously, as American voters give their elected officials short leashes, and could very easily vote Mr. Obama out in four years if his proposed plans don’t create visible results.

                President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of “change,” a tangible object or idea that Americans apparently desperately needed and wanted.  Time will tell if Obama’s guarantees of something that breaks from “business as usual” in Washington are true, or if his words are just another fantasy in the land of fairy tales.  Obama faces a difficult road ahead, and the margin of his victory and the amount of support he has as he takes office will only add to his struggles if he fails to produce.  The American voters have spoken, and they have marched to the byword of “change.”  Let us as citizens hope that this change isn’t just believable, but that it truly is necessary – and effective –  as well.

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