Tag Archives: US

A Downsized State Department

statedeptentranceAn update on the so-called “deconstruction” of the U.S. Department of State, where the future of American diplomacy is still uncertain. How will a 30% budget cut impact the national interest?

Does Tillerson have the political clout to succeed?

Will reform lead to streamlined diplomacy?

Can we see the outlines of a Trump policy where soft power is ignored at the expense of hard, military might?

‘But as William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state and the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, put it to me, “Beneath the surface, there’s nothing at all that’s normal.” Hard power and soft power are complementary. Cut out one and American leverage is lost. Wendy Sherman, an under secretary of state in the Obama administration, said, “Whether witting or not, this is not just the disruption of the State Department, it’s the destruction, and the minimization of the role of diplomacy in our national security.”’

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“Present at the Destruction”: The Deconstruction of the U.S. Department of State?

via Emily G, Berlin (@EmilyGorcenski)

Last March it appears that even though the “State Department was in disarray” it was still functioning at a moderate clip. Even so, it appeared that the pace had changed, with some calling it “lonely,” with “quiet hallways” and a lot of “sitting around and going home earlier than usual.”

Now, if Max Bergmann is right, what we see at Foggy Bottom, explored earlier this year by ProPublica as “deconstruction of the administrative state,” signals a massive loss of intellectual and social capital for U.S. diplomacy, and may confirm earlier concerns.

What is motivating Tillerson’s demolition effort is anyone’s guess. He may have been a worldly CEO at ExxonMobil, but he had precious little experience in how American diplomacy works. Perhaps Tillerson, as a D.C. and foreign policy novice, is simply being a good soldier, following through on edicts from White House ideologues like Steve Bannon. Perhaps he thinks he is running State like a business. But the problem with running the State Department like a business is that most businesses fail—and American diplomacy is too big to fail.

What is clear, however, is that there is no pressing reason for any of these cuts. America is not a country in decline. Its economy is experiencing an unprecedented period of continuous economic growth, its technology sector is the envy of the world and the American military remains unmatched. Even now, under Trump, America’s allies and enduring values amplify its power and constrain its adversaries. America is not in decline—it is choosing to decline. And Tillerson is making that choice. He is quickly becoming one of the worst and most destructive secretaries of state in the history of our country.

Source: Present at the Destruction: How Rex Tillerson Is Wrecking the State Department – POLITICO Magazine

Perhaps this is what Colum Lynch sees as “Trump’s Doctrine of Diplomatic Chaos,” where unpredictability is explained by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley as a strategic imperative–useful to negotiation efforts.

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Inside the Mind of Sergei Lavrov

Russia’s top diplomat could take a number approaches in doing the job. In the case of Sergei Lavrov, despite his many successes, universal dislike and mistrust seems to be a constant companion, according to POLITICO’s Susan Glasser.

From two top Obama officials:

“He’s a nasty SOB. He would be relentlessly berating and browbeating and sarcastic and nasty. His job was to berate and beat and harass us and Secretary Kerry into conceding the Russian view. It wasn’t defeating America; it was that Russia can’t win if it has to compromise at all.”

“I don’t see him as zero-sum and suspicious of and averse to the West as Putin is,” said another former Obama official who sat in many meetings in recent years with Lavrov. “He believes more in at least tactical cooperation, at least in a broader context of strategic nonalignment. I think he did actually look for opportunities. I also think he plays to his bosses. So the extent to which he’s acerbic and nasty—that’s partly his personality and partly what he believes Putin and actual powers that be want to hear.”

Source: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance – POLITICO Magazine

Russia’s long game is becoming more readily apparent–and has been explored many times earlier–where it must turn weakness into strength.

“Free societies are often split because people have their own views, and that’s what former Soviet and current Russian intelligence tries to take advantage of,” Oleg Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general, who has lived in the United States since 1995, said. “The goal is to deepen the splits.” Such a strategy is especially valuable when a country like Russia, which is considerably weaker than it was at the height of the Soviet era, is waging a geopolitical struggle with a stronger entity.”

Source: Trump, Putin and the New Cold war – The New Yorker, Annals of Diplomacy, March 6, 2017 Issue

Lavrov is an essential diplomatic knight in this game.

In Glasser’s longer profile in FP,  she describes Russia’s “Minister No” as “no gray apparatchik” who dominated the Security Council, drank, “smoked like a chimney” and favorited Italian couture, even as he cites Prince Gorchakov as the Russian diplomatic model. Perhaps that is a key insight, where Russian nationalism drive the antagonism against the U.S., and is integrated into Lavrov’s diplomatic approach.

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When Local Politics Drive Global Policy

 

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AFP

If you want to understand what was happening beneath the headlines on Secretary Kerry’s Israel speech, you need to think domestic politics, namely, those in Israel. The meaning behind the words contained in the speech (and their veracity) are also important, but that’s another discussion.

In September, Netanyahu announced at the General Assembly that Israel had broadened its diplomatic relations, not just with traditional allies in the West, but with emerging powers and markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But many of these “new allies” were part of the 14 nations that voted unanimously for the resolution last week. Netanyahu speaks with Vladimir Putin more frequently than any Western leader, but Moscow voted in favor. He has spent years cultivating ties with tiny Senegal, which benefits from a major Israeli agricultural aid program. When it came time to vote at the Security Council, though, they supported the resolution.

And, at a news conference last year, Bennett said that Asian countries could become Israel’s closest friends, because they “lack a heritage of anti-Semitism” found in the West. But China and Japan backed the resolution, too. In fact, Asian diplomats in Tel Aviv tend to laugh when asked whether they would play a role as Israel’s protectors at the United Nations. “We’re not a very active player in this conflict, and I think that would continue to be the case,” one high-ranking Asian diplomat told me. “We want to maintain our distance and focus on other issues.”

Israel’s newest allies, in other words, are happy to increase trade, tourism and security cooperation—but when it comes to diplomacy, they won’t stick their necks out. And if the Netanyahu government provokes a stronger reaction from the U.N., they might even retreat.

via Greg Carlstrom in Politco, “Trump Could Be Israel’s Worst Nightmare

The NYT reported that across the Middle East the speech was received with some interest, but with shrugs, too. And Robert Danin, writing on CFR’s Middle East blog said that “what was striking about Kerry’s 75-minute long address was not what was new, but rather how little new there really was for him to say.”

You can read the full transcript on Vox.

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Thinking Carefully about U.S. Power

Another reason to read the NYT: where else will you get a full half-page, above-the-fold analysis citing top scholars on the underlying reasons why Syria is a such a strategic, military and diplomatic conundrum:

It is an urgent problem that has consumed foreign policy discussions for the last few years. But much more is involved than the fate of a single country in the Middle East. Underlying the Syria issue is a set of questions that have animated every major debate over foreign policy for a century: What is America’s role in the world, what are its obligations, and what happens if it falls short of meeting them?
One strain of thought holds that America has a mission to champion democracy and human rights, granting it a unique role in the world, along with special powers and obligations. But that idea has always been controversial, with skeptics arguing it is an alluring myth — and a potentially dangerous notion.
via NYT

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Inside Negotiations for a Bipartisan Immigration Deal

A great article by Alec MacGillis in the NYT Magazine on how the Republicans and Democrats came together after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama–with a historic window to negotiate an immigration deal. Who were the players. How did the deal come together. And how it fell apart.

Three years ago, the G.O.P.-led Housewas close to reaching a compromise on immigration — one that might haveneutralized the issue for the 2016 election.This is the inside story of what went wrong.

Source: How Republicans Lost Their Best Shot at the Hispanic Vote – The New York Times

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A New Frame for American Power

 

Facing “a world in disarray”–the term used by Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. President has some work to do. On his recent trip to Laos, however, President Obama draws from his rhetorical toolbox to reframing the discourse on U.S. power and foreign policy history. His critics see it as weakness, or worse. But speaking truthfully about American past misdeeds can be a powerful strategy for building influence.

Mr. Obama’s series of speeches reviewing historical trouble spots highlight several unusual facets of his worldview. They fit within his larger effort to reach out to former adversaries such as Cuba and Myanmar. They assert his belief in introspection and the need to overcome the past. And they highlight his perspective that American power has not always been a force for good.

According to Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth College, reported in the NYT:

none of Mr. Obama’s comments constitute apology. … Rather, these speeches touch on a longstanding domestic political divide over the nature of American power.

“It gets back to this issue of national identity,” she said. Some Americans, including Mr. Obama, emphasize democratic ideals of humility and self-critique. Others believe American power is rooted in unity, celebration of positive deeds and shows of strength.

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for,” Mr. Obama said in March in Argentina, referring to a 1976 military coup that had received tacit American approval. “The United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies, as well, and its own past.”

Source: Obama, Acknowledging U.S. Misdeeds Abroad, Quietly Reframes American Power – The New York Times

This strategy strengthens soft power–even as the Obama Doctrine has relied on hard power significantly.

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Gray Diplomacy: Side Deals

Much was made of the U.S. payment to Iran as a “ransom for hostages.” As President Obama said, “The only bit of news is that we paid cash…because we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran.”

 The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers.

Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.

via Politico

Still not sure? Read through Jack Beauchamp’s piece in Vox where he breaks it down step-by-step.

 

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Military Trumps Diplomacy

The thesis, “militarization of [fill-in-the-blank]” has become rampant, isn’t new. In State vs. Defense, Stephen Glain explored how the traditional functions of diplomacy have become subsumed by the military-industrial complex, with mixed outcomes for U.S. foreign policy. And writing in 2012, Franz-Stefan Gady muses that militarized diplomacy “distorts assessments of U.S. influence and obscures national interest.”

Now, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor, protege of Michèle Flournoy, and Sheryl Sandberg contrarian delves deeper into the Pentagon in How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon, to explore how this is happening.

Equally illuminating is her examination of the resentment that the military has generated by expanding its role, assuming responsibility for all manner of unlikely projects. In its efforts to stamp out future generations of terrorists, the Pentagon has sponsored peace concerts in Africa, distributed soccer balls with anti-extremist slogans in Iraq, trained judges in Afghanistan — anything to shore up stability in volatile nations. It drives State Department personnel and aid workers — the people who would ordinarily be charged with such efforts — nuts.

“You’ve got these kids,” one Agency for International Development worker told her, “these 30-year-old captains who’ve spent their lives learning to drive tanks and shoot people, and they think they know how to end poverty in Afghanistan, in six months.”

Source: Review: ‘How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything’ – The New York Times

 

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The Roll Call Motion that Could (But Didn’t)

Today’s Roll Call Vote, an Explainer:

The Trump floor wrangler, Rick Gates, said “Our goal is to destroy them.” It didn’t work. 

Prior to the convention the Dump Trump delegate plan was to get to a roll call vote through a rule changes. According to Kyle Cheney in Politico, this is what happened:

They almost got the vote. The Never Trump delegates joined forces with a small but aggrieved band of GOP delegates — led Virginia delegate Ken Cuccinelli and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — furious with party leaders and the Trump campaign for their role last week in blocking a slew of changes to party rules that conservative activists favored. Together, they shocked Trump campaign and GOP leaders on Monday afternoon by producing signatures from a majority of delegates from 11 states and territories, far more than the seven jurisdictions necessary to force an up-or-down vote on the convention’s rules package. That would’ve left approval up fate to 2,472 delegates on the convention floor — and embarrassed Trump regardless of the results.

Next on the floor, Day 1 #RNCinCLE according to Chris Cillizza in The Fix (WaPo):

“Roll call vote” was the chant of the anti-Trump forces, a desire to have each state, one by one, announce their support or opposition not only for the rules package but, more broadly, for Trump.

Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack was — unfortunately for him — tasked with overseeing this chaos. The first time he tried to declare that the “ayes” (pro-Trump) votes had it, he was shouted down and left the stage. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a leading voice of the anti-Trump movement, called that decision to flee “surreal” and admitted that he had no idea what would come next.

What came next was a return by Womack to the stage and a repetition of the voice vote. After declaring that the “ayes” had it (again), Womack noted that only six of the nine states demanding a roll call vote had stood firm. Seven states were needed.
And, scene. The Iowa and Colorado delegations walked off the floor. Boos cascaded down. But it was over. 

Details are emerging on which states caved–the recipients of some back room arm-twisting:  Maine, Iowa, Minnesota and the District of Columbia. 

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