Saturday, January 30, 2010

Foreign Policy and the State of the Union

I've read a number of commentaries regarding the absence of foreign policy remarks in President Obama's State of the Union message. Perhaps not directly, but indirectly all the emphasis on economic growth in the United States is proximate to the foreign policy strategy of the country.

Some time in the distant past, the New York Times conducted a poll (this is from memory, so no link) which posited questions that, simply put, asked about the public interest in national as opposed to international as a way of judging the emphasis that should be put - at the time - on network news programming. The results were surprising inasmuch as when national affairs, and specifically economic matters, were put in the context of international effect - job losses to Mexico, drops in industrial production to China and the like. The responses clearly showed that public interest in international matters increased when put in a national economic context.

Consequently, for political scientists to bemoan the strong emphasis on national economic matters is misplaced. First, the US public is clearly focused on the economic state of the union. They are not interested in and would not take kindly to the President giving more that short shrift to mentioning a US foreign policy agenda. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen academics, to politics.

More than that, however, is the fundamental fact that the US must get its economy in order if its foreign policy goals are to succeed. Economic matters - together with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - make it difficult to deal with Russian expansionism through support for Poland and the Baltics, finding a non-military solution on the Iranian nuclear issue and especially working on a Middle East settlement. The latter has suffered in particular since US policy, which had promised to put pressure on the Israeli government to stop illegal settlement construction (West Bank settlements are a violation of international law), has clearly been dropped from the agenda.

So, economic issues in the US directly affect its foreign policy choices. The linkage is abundantly clear and the State of the Union had the right emphasis.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Development Becomes State

The visual identity of the United States Agenc...Image via Wikipedia

I have a pretty sanguine view about what is happening to the USAID community when it comes to being swallowed by the Department of State in the US. But that doesn't equate with thinking it is a good idea.

Over at The Cable a couple of reports have indicated the growing absorption of the development aid community into State - like and amoeba devouring it's nearest food source. Steve Radelet over at the Center for Global Development announced his departure to work as Senior Advisor on Development in the Secretary's Office at the State Department. Somehow, it seems to me that working on development affairs in Hillary Clinton's shop puts USAID less in charge of development work than it was a few days ago.

And that was after the appointment (finally) of a new Director over at the Ronny Raygun building, Rajiv Shah. Now, Rajiv Shah came highly praised and he is an accomplished development professional. But, although he previously helped launch the Global Development program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Shah is only 36 and was personally selected by the Secretary of State.

Despite the assurance of the Secretary of State regarding the USAID non-political development mandate, her words may not reflect reality as the combination of these two events does not bode well for the independence of USAID which had been hoped for when Obama was elected. When State finally became fed-up with the not so successful USAID efforts from the 1990s and essentially took it over, the subservience of development aid to US foreign policy goals (or whims as the case may be) become palpable.

There were many reasons for the ineffectiveness of many of USAID programs - too numerous to go into here now and not all the fault of USAID. Most of the blame can be laid at the feet of the incestuous relationship with the same beltway bandits over the past twenty years. However, independent thinking from a development standpoint now runs the real risk of disappearing into foggy bottom.

This eventuality is an issue not only on its merits, but because the Republican Party, currently and for the foreseeable future in the claws of people like Cheney, Bachmann, Palin and the teabagger brigade, could actually be calling the shots at State in the future. A development philosophy tied to them would make the USAID mandate the spearpoint for American right wing policies that would collapse the good will overseas that has been somewhat repaired by the current administration.

So, I hope Secretary Clinton has taken into consideration of who and what may be coming around the turn before creating a structure that can be used by the Darth Cheney types just as easily as by those with good intentions.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

A Few More Photo's of Ruaha Tanzania

The baobab tree in front of which I am standing starting growing before the founding of Rome...

Good News Bad News - Afghanistan and the West Bank

Some time ago I offered my opinion of the,then, proposed surge in Afghanistan - the request by General McChrystal for a significant increase in troop deployment. He got 30,000 (the media seems to continue to ignore the previous deployment of 12,000 earlier in 2009 making the total over 40,000 so I will too for now).

The Republicans, of course, stamped their collective hooves saying the General should get whatever he feels is necessary for prosecution of the war. Fortunately, the grown-ups decided to actually think about future strategy rather than allowing the military to dictate to the civilians in control (a source of frequent confusion to those in perpetual opposition to anything). Well, what will all those Republicans say now to this (registration required).

For those who can't access the article in the Financial Times here is a key part:

“As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting,” he said. “What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed.”

Asked if he would be content to see Taliban leaders in a future government in Kabul, he said: “I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future, and not the past.”

The remarks reveal the growing faith the US military is placing in the hope that a power-sharing arrangement can end the war, a possibility floated in Islamabad last week by Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, when he described the Taliban as part of Afghanistan’s “political fabric”.

The coming conference in London to discuss strategy will be a crucial meeting for NATO. Europe wants a definite exit strategy and the US has already issued a deadline to President Karzai. Although I did not agree with the surge, now that it is in place arguing about its usefulness is moot. General McChrystal has also tied his credibility to the request to support his plan, so he has much at stake. But, it is his sentiments expressed that I find most telling. It should really upset the Republicans. Good.

Now, juxtapose his statements with those of The Worst Israeli President Ever while planting a tree in the West Bank:

"Our message is clear: We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of Israel for eternity".

Eternity, Mr. Netanyahu, is a lot longer than you will be in charge. Not helpful at all and is only a further example of the extremist positions taken by the current regime in Israel that really began manifesting itself with the childish incident of the low chair for the Turkish ambassador. Well, people usual get the government they deserve.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Africa View

As I wind up my work here in Tanzania to head for the Middle East I thought a few photo's would be in order. The animals rule Ruaha National Park - at over 15,000 square miles the largest - and people are just tolerated guests. A walking safari should be on everyone's list. It's a prey's eye view and it is not a little humbling.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Massachusetts and Foreign Policy - Short Answers to Ridiculous Questions

Dan Drezner asks this.

Answer: No.

(For the record, I really enjoy and respect Dan Drezner - but this is really over analysis)

China Syndrome

Bathymetric map of the Indian OceanImage via Wikipedia

Japan has ended its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean which was part of its support for the Afghan war. On the other side of the coin, this will be interesting from a foreign policy perspective if it comes to pass.

The Chinese navy is slowly extending its permanent blue water reach into new zones. Although ostensibly a mission merely to support the continuing war in Afghanistan (and therefore in support of the US military), this step really goes far beyond the naval mission against piracy that China has heretofore engaged. It creates a permanent presence. How this will play out with India, its regional rival, and Pakistan, its regional ally, if it actually happens?

On the other hand, will the US really, really agree to having its warships refueled by the Chinese? Somehow, it seems to me that this might be a sea lane too far.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Ukrainian Elections Round 1

Yulia TymoshenkoImage by Minirobot via Flickr

Despite yesterday's post about the end of Ukraine as an independent state for all practical purposes, the election remains interesting in that it truly appears to be an exercise in free voting without the rigging, abuse of administrative powers and other manipulative excesses that were so transparent in 2004. That, I guess, says something about the candidates at the top, as well as for Victor Yuschenko. Russia could take some lessons.

With Yanukovych heading for about a 35% win and Tymoshenko 10 points behind, the February run-off is by no means assured for Yanukovych. The trading and promises are about to begin and the 35% really represents the limit of his popularity. Perhaps he can strip off another 5% - 7% from other parties, like the Communist Party, but I believe he would be pushing the edge of the envelope if he does so. I can't go as far to say that he will lose to Yulia, but the possibility is there and I give her more than an even chance of negotiating better deals and getting the 50% +1.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ukraine as Client State - Eggs in a Basket

A collection of traditional pysanky from Volyn.Image via Wikipedia

Today's election in Ukraine will not produce a clear winner and if Tymoshenko can hold on to a gap with Yanukovitch of no more than 15% then she has the chance to win on the February 7 runoff. After today, Yuschenko will be history and will forever regret the lost opportunities of 2004 and 2005.

He will regret his misplaced magnanimity in allowing Kuchma, Yanukovich and their allies to remain free. He will regret his weak responses to corruption and inefficiency. He will regret not forcefully reminding the EU and the United States what exactly was at stake. By Sunday night he will be retired.

Ukraine will have lost largely because of the apathy and disinterest in the youth and middle class over the past five years and not the failure of its politicians, which are legion. Nothing has struck me more than the "I don't care" attitude of the young and not so young. They will have much to regret as well during the next decade as any sort of democratic rule will be absorbed within the Russian standard of single party rule, a crushed media and subservience to Moscow as a client state.

None of the leading candidates can now forge an independent road for Ukraine. They are all tied to Russia and Russia has no intention of ever letting go again. It does not matter if Tymoshenko or Yanukovich is president. One will be and the other will be Prime Minister and Russia will have won completely. The eggs are indeed now in one basket.

This is an enormous strategic victory for Moscow as it really cannot wield world wide influence without Ukraine as an integral and controlled part. After February 7, it will be able to focus fully on its periphery, which is why the NATO commitment to the Baltics and Poland, is key to containing a resurgent Russian Union which has no free media, no fair elections and murders its political critics with impunity.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Israeli Deeds vs Words

Israel purports to support economic development for Palestinians as an antidote to extremism bred out of poverty. That policy is being put to an interesting test and the Israeli government appears, again, to be failing in its self-proclaimed effort to promote Palestinian economic stability and growth. This is not the first time, of course, and the treatment of Palestinians who happen also to be Israeli citizens is not exactly the same as other Israelis. An example is the construction of walkways in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem that are deliberately set lower than where Jewish citizens walk. The placement of the shorter chair for the Turkish ambassador is a recent example of this type of degrading action targeted at those whom the Israel government is displeased.

In any event, the report of the construction of a new, planned suburban town called Rawabi in the West Bank,funded by a Qatari firm, to house Palestinians in an American type suburban setting, puts Israeli words up against deeds. The issue in question is not the construction of the complex (which has already begun), but access. The entire access road runs through Palestinian territory - except for 3 kilometers(just short of 2 miles)under Israeli control. Without an access road no one will buy or rent in the new town. So far, the Israeli government has refused to answer the requests by the developers and has even refused to comment to the AP.

The current Israeli administration needs to respond quickly and positively to this type of activity. To continue to fail to do so says more about this government's future plans for the West Bank and the Palestinian state than any statements to the contrary.

Haiti - Thought for the Day

All outstanding foreign debt (IDB etc) should be cancelled today.

Secondary thought of the day: Limbaugh and Robertson should be locked up in a hole without food and water for the rest of their miserable, hateful lives.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Israeli Loose Cannon

Daniel AyalonImage via Wikipedia

Summoning the ambassador of the major power and normally friendly neighbor and treating him like this is profoundly stupid. Too stoop to this type of childish behavior over a television show makes it even worse, if that is possible. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon should be fired - or made ambassador to some suitable place - Vanuatu comes to mind - where he can't inflict any more damage in a region becoming more unstable by the day.

It might also be beneficial to remind Israel that aside from severe (and beginning to seem justifiable) criticism of Israel's attack in Gaza, Turkey has always worked closely with them. Alienating your last friend in the region - and the most powerful at that - is not a good plan of action. But then I think this is the worst possible government Israel has ever elected. You tend to reap what you sow. Perhaps you've heard of this, Danny?

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Unfair Trade Practice for Consultants: Exclusivity Letters

This has always been an annoyance for me and other consultants: Letter of Exclusivity.

Frankly, consultants should begin to demand that if a letter of exclusivity for a proposal is demanded (more often than not a requirement by donors such as USAID and the EU and the like) then that constitutes an opportunity cost which must be covered by a payment. It is an option. Companies pay for options. This should be palatable for the consulting firm if it is coupled with a deal that if the project is awarded, then the payment can be deducted from the consultant's remuneration. If the consulting firm loses the the bid, then, well, that's how options work. If the consultant withdraws after the payment is made and before any decision, then the money must be returned. It may even be structured so as to place the funds in a trust with the consultants bank.

This strikes me as completely fair. That's why it won't happen. Consultants are also terrified that they will be blackballed for being the first or even part of a small group demanding this change.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Adventures is Customs Control - Africa Style

A propos of nothing in particular, I need to have a word with those consultants who advise on anti-corruption matters, specifically in customs control.

After a year in captivity in Bishkek, my "stuff" (including my golf clubs) arrived in Dar es Salaam via Istanbul, Frankfurt and Nairobi. Getting at it was another matter. Kenya Airlines never bothered to tell me when they were sending it down and they did so a week ago, thereby giving me the privilege of paying storage charges as the airport. No matter. Then, however, came the exciting half day at the cargo terminal of Nyerere International Airport.

First, don't ever try to do this alone. Select one of the facilitators at the main gate whom you will pay to do all the dirty work. That work means filing more forms than I care to count, photocopying identification, describing the goods and generally running around to get the shipment released. I had three hard working fellows on my side. They ran from Swissport offices to the payment windows and to me (for tax payments, signing documents, providing my passport etc.) and then, after two hours ambled over to the customs warehouse with me in tow to have the shipment "inspected".

I was quietly told that we needed to "take care" of the inspectors (five of them). My reaction was not shock (anti-corruption consultants take note) that bribery was going on here - I just wanted to know how much I needed to "take care" of them. As it turned out, my facilitators had negotiated a good deal. About $50 which I dutifully paid in Tanzanian Shillings. Suddenly, the inspectors dropped whatever other inspection they had not be paid to perform and tore into my shipment. It took ten minutes and, with a flash of papers and a wave, the next to the next final step was done.

It took another 45 minutes to pay for storage, grab a receipt and then run to another person to get the signed release and gate pass all before the entire office shut for the day. So, after all that and paying my facilitators, I was off.

Anti-corruption efforts only work if salaries are reasonable and punishment is certain, swift and decisive. Since none of that exists in Tanzania, at least at customs control, I was more interested in not waiting a week to collect my stuff. Hence, the automatic reaction to "taking care" of the officials. If the facilitation payment had not been made, very little would have transpired. Such is reality.

Back to work.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dagestan Rebel Funding and Russia

An Agence France Press Report published in Hurriyet on Saturday reported on a Russian news broadcast that Dagestan rebels were being financed by supporters in Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates. Interesting that Georgia was included in an otherwise Islamic country list and may be just gratuitous, although Georgia does have at its disposal some very wealthy individuals. Georgia also has some justifiable grievances against Russia. Nevertheless, this appears to be part of a growing Kremlin campaign to solidify and set the stage for extending its position in the Caucuses even if it is a legend. But,even if true, the distinction made between funding by a country and its citizens does not change the Russian paranoia of foreign interference in an attempt to dismantle or neuter the Federation. Last week, for example, the Kremlin's installed leader of Chechnya called for the liquidation of Ukraine and Georgia referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union as foreign sponsored.

Putin may be using these statements to gauge public and international reactions. An adverse, reaction would allow the Kremlin to disavow any reported plans and distance itself from the 'liquidation' remarks made by the murderer currently in charge in Chechnya. However, regardless, these statements seem to be warning to Turkey and Azerbaijan not to press their foreign policies too independently in the Caucuses.

As I suggested in my post below, Russia will seek to solidify and expand its control over the Caucuses in the coming year. Saturday was the first stage - control the message.

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Friday, January 1, 2010


And off we go.

In the 1st year of the next decade (yeah, yeah, I know - it really starts in 2011. Well, that's not the common usage, so live with it.) I'll indulge in a couple of predictions.

Prediction 1 - The last free and fair election in Ukraine will be in January if Yanukovich wins so he can fulfill his threat to end "democracy".

Prediction 2 - The new Russian empire will expand and consolidate its hold on Central Asia, Ukraine and the South Caucuses.

Prediction 3 - The US will increase its military footprint in the Baltics and Poland to counter the newly imperial Russia.

Prediction 4 - Turkey will flex its newly found military, economic and (most importantly) cultural muscle in the Middle East, most of the time against the wishes of the US and Israel.

Prediction 5 - Iran will continue to experience shocks to its social system with a concomitant reduction in its ability to interfere abroad until it reaches a tipping point - at which time they will do something stupid.

Prediction 6 - There will be a ground assault on Somali pirates.

Prediction 7 - The "surge" in Afghanistan will not achieve its intended goals, and the Afghan military will continue to be the phantom army of the 21st century.

Prediction 8 - Political relations between Germany and the US will continue their slide as Germany becomes more reliant on Russia for energy and trade.

Prediction 9 - The Israeli government will continue its illegal construction activities on Palestinian land despite international condemnation and new fighting will erupt between Hezbollah and Israel.

Prediction 10 - All the previous predictions will change as the inevitable chaos theory takes over.

Welcome to the next decade.

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