Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mr. Gore, Speak out on Iraq

Former Vice President Albert Gore has become a man of focus as he won the Oscar Prize for his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” His environmental crusade is valuable, but he needs to tell about vital security issues to America and the world. He was the Vice President, not the Secretary of Environment. He is a politician, not a movie director. Therefore, Al Gore is expected to say something on Iraq and terrorism.

Currently, the Iraq debate is being intensified between the White House and the Capitol Hill. But in order to discuss whether this war is right or wrong, it is necessary to understand policymaking processes on Iraq and terrorism during the Clinton administration era. In view of post Ba'athist insecurity in Iraq, the media and dovish opinion leaders assume as if a Democrat president would not have intervened there to topple Saddam Hussein. That is wrong.

To discuss this issue, Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, appeared in Q & A of C-Span on March 4. He said that neo-cons and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger urged President Bill Clinton to invade Iraq. Let me review the interview briefly.

During the interview, Brian Lamb who is the host of this program quoted the famous letter to President Clinton from signatories of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in 1998. Robert Kagan talked about the background of founding this think tank. In those days, isolationist mood was prevalent because the Cold War was over. Contrary to this viewpoint, Kagan said that the United States was facing new threats like authoritarian China and Russia. Among post-Cold War threats, Iraq was the most critical problem, as Saddam Hussein did not surrender pressure from the global community, even though he was defeated in the Gulf War in 1991. Also, Kagan mentioned that President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were well aware that their policy against Iraq was not strong enough.

Saddam Hussein refused UN inspection in critically dangerous areas, such as his presidential palace where huge stockpile of weapons of mass destruction were expected to be found. Saddam tried to obstruct inspectors, which raised further concerns among Western policymakers.

National Security Advisor Sandy Berger agreed with signatories to the letter, and he requested President Clinton that the United States resort to tougher measures as containment policy did not work against Saddam. Kagan said that the Monica affair hindered Bill Clinton from attacking Iraq.

Above all, Robert Kagan pointed out that Albert Gore was a leading hawk in the Iraq debate. Had he won the election in 2000, Gore would have attacked Iraq, Kagan insists. Why? Saddam was willing to invade Iraqi neighbors, if he had some slight opportunities. He invaded Iran and Kuwait. In addition, dealing with Iraq was a 10-year problem.

More importantly, 9-11 led American policymakers to reaffirm Iraqi threat. As it happened right after Pearl Harbor attack, White House leaders realized the danger comes from on going problem. Robert Kagan asserted that any president of the United States would have acted as advocated in PNAC letter to Bill Clinton in 1998.

Albert Gore has an obligation to talk about Iraq when he was the vice president. Moreover, he was the president-elect for a while, until what liberals mention “the Notorious Florida Accident” happened. He is in a position to tell the global public, how the Clinton administration evaluated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. In addition, he needs to address his policy on Iraq and terrorism, because he could have been the president to fight this global war.

Anti-war activists and liberals blandish airy fairly tales that President Gore would have acted peacefully to deal with Saddam’s Iraq. However, it is vital to remember that the White House has been exploring topple Saddam Hussein for a decade. There is no wonder that Robert Kagan insists that even Al Gore would have attacked Iraq after 9-11.

There are too many people simply blaming the Bush administration for post Baathist insecurity in Iraq. However, it is important to remember that cabinet staff of the Clinton administration agreed unanimously that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed serious and imminent threat to the United States and its allies. Without understanding policy debates under the Clinton-Gore team, no one can evaluate current situation in Iraq properly. This is the reason why “President” Albert Gore must speak out on Iraq, as well as he does on global warming.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Key Person: U.S. Policy on Iran

Patrick Clawson
Deputy Director for Research, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, United States

Education: BA, Oberlin College; Ph D, New School for Social Research

I would like to talk about a leading expert on Iran, in order to foresee American policy against Iran. Iranian theocracy has been one of the most serious threats to the West and the global community since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Currently, Iran conflicts with the West on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and security in Iraq.

Patrick Clawson has written numerous books about the Middle East with special focus on Iran, including “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005, with Michael Rubin) and “Getting Ready for a Nuclear Iran” (Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, 2005, edited with Henry Sokolski). Prior to joining the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Clawson was a senior research professor at the National Defense University, and then, worked for the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

In the post, entitled “Can We Talk with Iran?” on this blog, I mentioned his policy paper, “Forcing Hard Choices on Iran.” While Clawson insists that the United States demonstrate its military strength to deter Ahmadinejad’s adventurism, he refutes any kind of simple-minded approaches to attack Iran immediately. Fluent in Farsi, he is well aware of Iranian aspiration for a great power status by acquiring nuclear weapons.

Since then, Iran continues to be a problematic nation. On nuclear issue, Iran remains adamant to reject UN resolution to stop enriching uranium. On Iraq, Iran sponsors Shiite uprising, and it even detains 15 British sailors and marines. How can we talk with these issues with Iran? Should we expect Iran to be a responsible stakeholder on political stability in Iraq? Let me review his recent articles and comments to the media.

In a Policy Watch, “Hanging Tough on Iran”, released by the Washington Institute on February 9, Clawson points out fundamental weakness of Iran on nuclear negotiations. Despite this, Iran misunderstands its position. Certainly, Iran increased government revenue in 2006, thanks to high oil price. He argues Iran’s weakness from the following points. As to the economy, Iran is heavily dependent on oil. IAEA forecasts oil price will not rise steeply this year, because non-OPEC countries will increase the supply. Strategically, Iran is completely isolated from the world. As Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment, EU 3 (Britain, Germany, and France), Middle East neighbors, and even China and Russia, are increasingly concerned with growing Iranian threats. Politically, revolutionary ideology is losing ground. The government loosened bans on entertainment, such as mixed-sex dancing and alcohol.

Regarding Iraq issues, Clawson insists that it is not of much use to appease Iran. In another policy watch, “Engaging Iran on Iraq: At What Price and to What End?”, he points out that Iran has little interest to talk with the United States on Iraq. Even supposedly moderate Ali Rafsanjani argues that there is no reason for Iran to help the United States getting out of the Iraqi quagmire. Supreme Leader Ali Hossein Khamenei remarked “To justify their presence, the occupiers need insecurity in Iraq. Accordingly, they fan insecurity and instability” in Keyhan newspaper on November 27. Furthermore, Clawson points out that Iranian influence on Iraq is overestimated. He says that Iran can cause trouble, but cannot bring peace.

Patrick Clawson recommends further pressure on Iran in his article, “Iran Options”, in San Diego Union-Tribune on February 18. Due to isolation from the world, Iran has a limited access to foreign technology to develop nuclear weapons. However, adamant leaders in Iran are not likely to surrender in a short period, and the United States needs to reassure its allies in the Middle East protected from Iranian threat. Otherwise, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, may explore nuclear possession. Even a pre-emptive attack against Iran should not be ruled out.

Established in 1985, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has been committed to advance US interests in the Middle East, notably, security, peace, prosperity, democracy, and stability. The Board of Advisors includes influential policymakers from both parties. Patrick Clawson is a leading expert on Iran at the Washington Institute. Therefore, he is a man of focus for Iran watchers.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Prospects of Presidential Election in Russia

Major powers are preparing for elections this year. The United States will have presidential election in 2008, and candidates are competing now. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair will step down this summer, and policy debate between Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Conservative Leader David Cameron will be intensified. Also, Russia will have presidential election next year, as President Vladimir Putin promised to quit his job. In “The List: Next President of Russia” on Foreign Policy web exclusive this January, Julian Evans, Analyst at the Eurasian Heritage Foundation in Moscow, comments briefly about presidential candidates to succeed Putin. Each candidate has his or her own strength and weakness.

Among presidential candidates, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov are prominent, says Evans. Medvedev is the most likely to succeed Putin, because he is popular, rich, young, and good-looking. He worked with Putin in St. Petersburg a decade ago. Western analysts see Medvedev market-friendly and pro-Western. However, he is only 41 years old, and too inexperienced for executive positions. On the other hand, another Deputy Prime Minister as well as Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is confrontational to NATO. As an ex-official of the Federal Service Bureau (formerly KGB), his administrative skill and fluency in English are outstanding. Western Diplomats, including Condoleezza Rice, respect his competence. Although not as popular as Medvedev, Ivanov may seize the opportunity when Putin feel it necessary to protect Russia from the West.

In addition, dark horses like Vladimir Yakuinin, CEO of the Russian Railways, and Valentina Matvienko, Governor of St. Petersburg, need to be paid attention. Yakuinin has KGB connections, but he is not well-known by general public. Since female leaders attract media attention these days, Matvienko could enjoy this advantage. However, her performance as the Governor of St. Petersburg and Ambassador to Malta is obscure.

Whoever wins the election next year, it is important to keep it in mind that Russia has a cycle of Peter the Great (pro-Western, enlightenmentalist) and Ivan the Terrible (nationalist, authoritarian). Whether czarist, communist, or capitalist, this cycle has been consistent throughout the history. Let me pick up some examples.

Peter the Greats:
Peter the Great, Alexander II, Nikita Khrushchev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Boris Yeltin?

Ivan the Terribles:
Ivan the Terrible, Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, and Vladimir Putin

This dichotomy is not always the case. Catherine the Great had both characteristics. In her early reign, she was a typical enlightened despot. However, she became an authoritarian despot later, in order to maintain the feudal order and expand the territory.

National leader election in Russia is no less important than those in the United States and Britain. Regardless of media coverage, those who have keen interest in international affairs need to keep an eye on this election. Will the next president Peter the Great or Ivan the Terrible? This is a significant question to global security and world energy problem.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

US Policy against China’s Military Build-up

China announced 17.8% increase in defense spending this Sunday. This is the largest military budget surge in five years, which raises serious concern among American policymakers. According to “Beijing Increases Defense Spending” in the International Herald Tribune on March 4, a Chinese official says "We must increase our military budget, as it is important to national security," and the Chinese "military must modernize. Our overall defenses are weak." Most defense analysts do not take this message as it is. They see China explores dominance over the Taiwan Strait, and try to deter US intervention in Sino-Taiwan conflicts. Some foreign military experts estimate that China spend three times more on arms expansion than the official figure.

US officials are alarmed to see Chinese ambitious pursuit for power. Vice President Dick Cheney denounces Chinese anti-satellite missile test, as it is inconsistent with China’s stated goal of peaceful rise. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte demanded that China be more open about its military build-up.

Prior to this announcement, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held an event, entitled “Reframing China Policy Debate 3: The Implications of China's Military Modernization” to discuss Chinese military expansion and its implication to global security on February 6. The following opinion leaders participated in this panel discussion.

Larry M. Woltzel: Commissioner on the US-China Economic Security Review Commission

David M. Finkelstein: Director of "Project Asia" & the China Studies Center at the CNA Corporation

J. Stapleton Roy: Former Ambassador to China

And moderated by
Michael D. Swaine: Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

At the beginning of this discussion, Former Ambassador Stapleton Roy mentioned China’s military growth is in parallel with its economic growth. Also, he said that if US-Chinese relations were cooperative, a stronger China would be helpful for US effort to promote world peace, stability, and economic development. On the other hand, if US-Chinese relations are confrontational, a stronger China will undercut US national interests. A former ambassador in Beijing and born in China, Roy points out that China has in armed conflicts with Japan, the United States, Korea, India, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam, and insists that Americans need to understand these historical contexts to evaluate Chinese behavior.

Considering these aspects, Stapleton Roy asks the following critical questions regarding Chinese defense spending and military build-up.

(1) Americans say China spends too much on defense, but how much is enough?
(2) Americans criticize China spends too much on defense, but its military expenditure is about 50% of those in Britain, Germany, France, and Italy.
(3) Americans tend to assume Chinese are eager to confront with the United States, but do they sacrifice their economic development?

Having asked the above questions, Roy set agenda for this event: “China is actively preparing for potential military conflict scenarios with the United States, and we have to understand what’s going on, and that’s the purpose of today’s debate.”

In order to assess whether Chinese military modernization is a threat to the United States and Asia, Larry Woltzel and David Finkelstein discussed military capabilities and intentions of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). Both experts presented their viewpoints at first.

Larry Woltzel insists that China is not an enemy to the United States, although its regime is authoritarian and it counters US diplomacy. He argues that both China and the United States share interests in economy and peace. However, China is at odds with the United States, regarding human rights and global security.

Although China’s military intention is not clear, Woltzel says it pursues dominant position over the Taiwan Strait and in the Western Pacific region. He says China is capable of achieving this objective. China’s state of the art technologies, like strategic missile, anti-satellite missile, and so forth, target US military power. Woltzel insists that the United States be well prepared for curbing Chinese ambitions.

Then, David Finkelstein presents his analysis on transformation of the PLA: from ground-forces-centric and manpower dependent one to equal emphasis on naval and air power and high-tech dependent one. Finkelstein points out that the Chinese authority was shocked to see spectacular US victory in the Gulf War in 1991. This is the reason why the PLA has begun to modernize itself for the Information Age.

China no longer faces land threats from the Soviet Union, and it needs to invest more resources to protect the sea-lane to import oil. Like Woltzel, Finkelstein comments that China is not willing to confront the United States, but aiming at becoming a leading military power in East Asia and countering Japan and India.

As to the question whether Chinese military spending is excessive or not, both expert mentioned rapid progress in Chinese arms technology, which would be able to attack US aircraft carrier battle groups. The moderator asked a simple question whether China intends to eject US influence from the Western Pacific. Both commentators said China is not willing to fight with the United States, but it wants to establish its own sphere of influence in its neighborhood on land and in the sea. In addition, they talked about challenges posed by the Sino-Russian military partnership to US supremacy. Russian military assistance promotes PLA modernization furthermore.

In conclusion, it is unclearness of intention that raises serious concern on rapid Chinese military expansion among Washington policy makers.

For detail, you can see the video on Windows and Real Player, and listen to the discussion with i-Pod.