Friday, February 27, 2009

A Questionable Defense Cut by President Obama

Currently, conservatives in the United States express critical concerns with President Obama’s economic bailout. While expanding governmental expenditure, the Obama administration is cutting defense budget. As United States and its free allies face upheavals of challenges, Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warns that defense cut proposed by the President will undermine vital national interests of the United States (“No Time to Cut Defense”; Washington Post; February 3, 2009). In addition, quoting an article by Professor Martin Feldstein of Harvard University, Kagan criticizes that currently proposed defense spending cut is contradictory to Keynesian economic philosophy of the stimulus package. We have to question what President Obama thinks of the imperial role of the United States in global security. Defense budget is not the only problem. Despite a warning by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as I mentioned in a previous post, President Obama is not willing to renew America’s old stockpile of nuclear warheads. Let me review some articles to explore problematical points on this issue.

Robert Kagan warns that defense cut will unnerve American allies and undermine efforts to gain security cooperation. As I quoted a comment by Lieutenant General David Barno in the previous post, America should say “don’t worry, we are staying” instead of “don’t worry, we are leaving”. In addition, an adversary like Iran interprets that defense cut implies America has lost the supremacy. As Retired Captain Pete Hegseth, an Iraq veteran of the US Army, comments, “America’s enemy will see Obama as weak.”

Quite interestingly, some Republicans argue foreign aid and development spending must be cut further than defense, because they think unnecessary expenditure will simply increase budget deficit. This is another challenge for the President to persuade his defense spending cut plan.

As to Obama’s defense cut to save the economy, Martin Feldstein points out logical fraud as the following.

If rapid spending on things that need to be done is a criterion of choice, the plan should include higher defense outlays …. The military can increase its level of procurement very rapidly…. Infrastructure spending on domestic military bases can also proceed more rapidly than infrastructure spending in the civilian economy. And military procurement overwhelmingly involves American-made products…. In addition, a temporary increase in military recruiting and training would reduce unemployment directly, create a more skilled civilian workforce and expand the military reserves. (“An $800 Billion Mistake”; Washington Post; January 29, 2009)

I wonder whether President Obama is strengthening or weakening America.

Spending cut is not the only issue to be questioned in Obama’s defense policy. Obama proposes a rapid mutual cut of nuclear arsenals to Russia. On the other hand, Secretary Gates stresses that the United States build the Reliable Replacement Warheads in order to maintain current level of deterrence. Also, Gates expresses concerns with Obama’s push for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (“Nuclear agenda draws scrutiny: Obama to seek large cuts in US, Russian warheads”; Boston Globe; February 22, 2009).

Secretary Gates says "Currently, the United States is the only declared nuclear power that is neither modernizing its nuclear arsenal nor has the capability to produce a new nuclear warhead," and "To be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without either resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program."

President Obama did not talk much about his defense plan at the joint congressional session on February 24. The President said “And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al-Qaida and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.” This is right, but he has not told how America can stop terrorists’ plot with shrunk defense spending. More importantly, Obama did not mention growing threats of Iran and North Korea, and dangerous challenges by Russia and China (“Obama's Address to Congress”; NPR; February 24, 2009).

It seems to me that President Obama is not interested in the special role of the United States, that is, the provider of global public goods to maintain world security and the leader of the League of Democracies. It is quite odd that President Obama does not respect opinions by an eminent expert like Secretary Gates whom he cordially invited to join his administration. Also, the President does not care logical inconsistency pointed out by Professor Feldstein who assumes the President Emeritus of the National Economic Research Council.

Whether right or wrong, President Barack Obama tries to do his best in the economy. I have no doubt about it. However, his dedication to national and global security is extremely questionable. Robert Kagan is right to express a critical concern.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Strategies in Afghanistan and America’s Relation with Its Allies

In view of growing influence of insurgents in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced to send more troops there. New troops will be deployed in southern and eastern area to bounce back Taliban attack in the warmer season. Also, they will provide trainings for the Afghan army, and security for national elections in August. Obama will request NATO allies to follow his approach (“More Troops Headed to Afghanistan: Obama Boosting U.S. Force by Nearly 50% to Address 'Deteriorating Situation'”; Washington Post; February 18, 2009). Also, some allies such as Japan will be asked contributions to the US-NATO mission in Afghanistan. This is not so surprising. Obama insisted that the United States focus on Afghanistan and withdraw troops from Iraq, in the War on Terror.

Prior to the announcement by President Obama, new Afghan strategy was discussed at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As new policy brief, “Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War” was released this January, the Carnegie Endowment held an event on February 3 (See the video here). Gilles Dorronsoro, the author and a Visiting Scholar at Carnegie, recommends substantial renewal of counterterrorist strategies in Afghanistan. Currently, Doronsoro is an associate member of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies.

In the policy brief, Dorronsoro insists that a mere surge will not improve things in Afghanistan, and the focus of Western strategy be defined clearly. The West should not expand operations to marginal issues like counternarcotics, he says. The main objective, he argues, is to make the Afghan government self-sustainable after a US and NATO withdrawal. In addition, Dorronsoro argues that the Western pressure on Pakistan is inefficient. He also recommends talking with Afghan neighbors, including India, Iran, and Russia. Dorrnsoro insists on Afghanization of this war eventually.

Meanwhile, Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment, and David Barno, Retired Lieutenant General of the US army and Director of the Near East South Asia Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, raise some concerns to Dorronsoro’s Afghanization strategy. Let me review the event.

First, Gilles Dorronsoro expressed his viewpoints. He argued that the West should focus on security around the Kabul area, instead of expanding the war into traditional Taliban home ground of southern and eastern area, or even in the Tribal Area of Pakistan. Dorronsoro says that it is too late for the West to pursue the victory, because neither the United States nor NATO allies have sufficient resources to defeat insurgents completely. Therefore, he insists that the Western coalition give priority in empowering the Afghan government to build a real nation state, before the withdrawal.

On the other hand, Ashley Tellis insists that this is a war, which the United States must win. If allies cannot afford to make further contributions to surge, the United States must act by itself to defeat terrorists in Afghanistan, he says. Tellis argues that the United States misuses its resources for the war in Afghanistan.

It is noteworthy that Tellis categorized the Taliban into three groups, and insisted on applying different strategies to each of them. The first category is hardcore foot soldiers. The second is tribal and village chiefs who support the Taliban within their territories. The third one is cheap day-to-day mercenaries, and he calls them Rent-a-Taliban.

Tellis says that the United States must never allow terrorists use Afghanistan to attack the homeland. Quite importantly, he points out that terrorists were invigorated in 2005 to hear that the United States would transfer responsibility for the war to the coalition and Pakistan. According to Tellis, insurgents understood that the United States was quitting the war. I find some overlaps between his argument and the Iraq debate. Prior to the surge, liberals insisted on something similar to this on Iraq, which turned out to be wrong later.

Lieutenant General David Barno agrees with Ashley Tellis mostly. As a former commander in Afghanistan, he points out that the Taliban is increasingly invigorated because Afghanistan is poorly governed, not because they have grown in response to foreign forces. Regarding the resource, the budget for operations in Afghanistan is in competition with Iraq and economic bailout. Lieutenant General Barno emphasizes the vital strategic interest of the war in Afghanistan, and insists that the United States must defeat Islamic radicals there.

Most importantly, David Barno said the following.

Sending a message that our ultimate goal is leaving simply empowers the enemy to wait us out. Several months back, I was at a dinner with a group of international officers who had served in Iraq, and one of them was an American brigade commander who had served out in Anbar province. And he said the situation in Anbar with regard to working with the tribes didn’t change and we didn’t have any leverage at all in trying to approach the tribes until we, the Americans, changed our narrative from, don’t worry, we’re leaving to a narrative that said, don’t worry, we’re staying. And when we changed that narrative, all different manner of tribal entities were willing to partner with us to move in some new directions to have confidence in what we were saying with them.”

Barno concludes that the United States can win this war through effective and properly organized strategy.

Three panelists presented vital points, but it seems to me that they are preoccupied with military strategy. This is a kind of Cold War approach, focusing on defeating communists. In the War on Terror, empowerment is a critical issue, because failed governance provokes terrorist activities.

Satifar Harshimi, a staff of Voice of America in Afghanistan, asked a question about civil development. Dorronsoro replied that Western aid should go through the Afghan government as the coalition lost the war. Barno argued against it, and said that the Western forces could win.

The difference of viewpoints among the panelists results from assessment of cause and effect. I think Lieutenant General Barno’s comment the most persuasive, as the surge and the strategy renewal have made success in Iraq. Also, when 9-11 terrorist attack happened, there were not any foreign forces in Afghanistan.

The problem is, NATO allies are reluctant to expand their commitments. At the NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Krakow, Poland, from February 18 to 20, British Defence Secretary John Hutton endorsed US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that European allies send more troops to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda (“Afghanistan, Georgia, Ukraine Top Agenda For NATO Defense Ministers”: Radio Free Europe, 19 February 2009). The rift between American (and British) sheriff and European bar master over Iraq has not resolved. The Afghan War reveals the gap again.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Secretary Clinton, Coming to Asia

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will leave for Japan, China, South Korea, and Indonesia on February 15. Secretary Clinton’s decision to visit Asia before Europe and the Middle East has given a significant impression to Washington watchers. It is true that Vice President Joseph Biden attended the Munich Security Conference in Germany, and Special Envoy George Mitchell visits Israel and Palestine. In addition, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier visited Secretary Clinton on February 3. Thus, Clinton is free to break the tradition. (“Bucking tradition, Clinton to head for Asia”; CNN News; February 3, 2009: also, see the video)

However, this is more than schedule and procedure. Secretary Clinton has been keeping a close eye on Asia. During the presidential election campaign, Hillary Clinton contributed an article to Foreign Affairs, and said “Our relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century.” (“Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century”; Foreign Affairs; November/December 2007) A new liberal think tank closely related to Secretary Clinton, called CNAS (Center for a New American Security), has the Asia Initiative ‘09 project with extensive focus on the Asia-Pacific region. The statement of this project says “As power shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it is paramount for American strategists to articulate a forward-looking strategy to deal with the complexities of the Asia-Pacific region.”

Apparently, Secretary Clinton is more Pacific-oriented than any other Secretary of State in history. She even had a scandal of Chinese donation during the election campaign. In an interview with BBC, Clinton said "Going to Asia signals that the US is not just a transatlantic power but also a transpacific power." (“US 'keen to strengthen Asia ties'”; BBC News; 13 February 2009)

Key issues will be North Korea, Sino-US security affairs, and trade problems associated with the Buy American Clause. President Ralph A. Cossa and Executive Director Brad Glosserman, both at the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, present brief analyses in their joint article. (“Secretary Clinton's No. 1 mission is to reassure allies”; Japan Times; February 12, 2009)

They visited Tokyo and Seoul recently to find that senior officials in both capitals are worried of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, because Japanese and South Korean leaders have no clear idea what change will happen US strategy in East Asia.

Both Japan and South Korea are concerned with possible softening of US approach to North Korea. The Bush administration sought compromises with the North Korean evil, instead of complete denuclearization. Neither Japan nor South Korea hopes further Chamberlainian diplomacy against the rogue regime in Pyongyang.

The threat of China is another critical issue. While Japan and South Korea do not desire Rumsfeldian hardliner against China, both nations are dismayed with increasing US tilt with China at the expense of the US-Japanese and the US Korean alliance.

Regarding trade, both Japan and South Korea want “reassurance that the Obama administration will remain committed to open markets and free trade.”

Secretary Clinton replied to these concerns in her interview with BBC. Clinton warned North Korea not to take any provocative actions, but stressed offering incentives to abandon nuclear programs. I would say that Secretary Clinton needs to shed anxieties among Japanese and South Korean officials. Also, the abduction issue must not be missed.

Secretary Clinton’s approach to China is another concern. She is right to say that the United States needs to develop cooperation with China to resolve global issues, such as climate change, energy, pandemic prevention, nuclear proliferation, and so forth. However, Clinton thinks too light of Chinese threat. After a long holiday from history during the Clinton administration era, China and Russia have remerged as new threats to our liberal world order. As Robert Kagan argues, the clash between our liberal capitalism and their authoritarian capitalism is a key agenda in global security of this century.

Secretary Clinton will send important messages to understand the Obama administration’s vision to the world. As I mention in this post, there are some worries regarding new administration’s approaches to China and North Korea. It is necessary that Secretary Clinton win trust by key allies in the Pacific area, and impress strong commitment of the United States. Be careful not to be seen America weak!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Membership to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have met a person in charge of CSR at ACCJ (American Chambers of Commerce in Japan). I need to find some sponsors in order to found a solid financial base and expand personal contacts.

Ms. Patricia Bader-Johnston with whom I met on January 6 recommended me to join ACCJ, in order to hold an event such as panel discussion, forum, and so forth. She told me that I would be able to expand personal contacts, leading me to find possible sponsors through this way. I am delighted to hear this. However, there is one problem, which is the member fee.

Currently, I am not in a good financial condition. I have not traveled abroad recently. Although I feel that I need to go abroad to refresh myself, I have been staying in Japan for such a long time since my last attendance to the Carnegie and the Woodrow Wilson conference. This is only because I do not have enough money to get on board the plane and stay overseas.

Finally, I decided to apply for the membership, and it was admitted. I am delighted to have a wonderful opportunity. I hope that I will be able to develop this chance.

For detail, please see this link. Those who are seriously exploring to launch public interest activities will find it helpful.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Buy American Clause: President Obama’s Unilateral Socialism Worsens US-EU Relations

Europeans blamed American unilateralism when the Iraq War broke out. They expected that the Democrat candidate Barack Obama would heal the transatlantic rift. Now, the European public and global media need to face the cost of irresponsible criticism to the Republican administration.

President Barack Obama announced that a new protectionist policy, called the Buy American Clause, would be applied to his economic stimulus plan. Some leaders in the United States and overseas criticize Obama’s clause a new kind of Smoot Hawley Tariff Act. When the Iraq War broke out, liberals in America and across the globe said “Hatred causes hatred in return.” President Obama is endorsed by these liberals who believe that love regardless of national interests and ideology leads to unify citizens across the world. In reality, the Great President is proposing protectionism to provoke retaliatory protectionism.

Senator John McCain would have never remarked such a narrow view pointed policy, had he become the President. McCain is an ardent advocate for the League of Democracies. He would have respected American allies much more than Barack Hussein.

It was British Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson who criticized this protectionist clause first. Lord Mandelson comments “This, if we do nothing, will lead to a new form of protectionism, a retreat of globalisation and a reduction of trade and cross-border activity that will be followed quickly by the old trade protectionism of the past. This is a time not just for individual, national measures to deal with the crisis. This is the time for the world to come together as one” (“Mandelson condemns Obama 'Buy American' call as protectionism”; Times; January 31, 2009). Secretary Mandelson says such de-globalization "un-welcome, undesirable, and unnecessary" (“Jeremy Warner: Do as we say, not as we do when it comes to protectionism”; Independent; 31 January 2009).

The bill raises a serious concern across EU member states. Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said "We want to underline the responsibility of government to avoid this protectionist, xenophobic, nationalistic trend" (“EU attacks 'Buy American' clause”; BBC News; 3 February 2009).

The Buy American Clause will inflict a significant influence beyond US-EU relations. Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, warned against the “dangers of sliding into isolationism and tit-for-tat measures, which have proven so devastating in the past" (“WTO Seeks to Curtail Protectionist Measures”; Washington Post; February 7, 2009). Gary Hufbauer, Reginald Jones Senior Fellow at The Peterson Institute for International Economics said that the U.S. action "will be seen as a license to other countries to do their own protectionist measures. The U.S. has always preached open markets and open trade. And now the United States is violating its international commitments." He insists that the bill costs more new jobs than it creates (“Analysis: Buy-US clause draws fire abroad”; Washington Post; February 4, 2009).

Do you want to see America like these?

O Hail Obama


Apparently, President Obama does not respect the role of hegemonic state, that is, the guarantor of free trade and liberal world order. It is not the lack of experience that undermines his qualification for the leader of the global superpower, but his creed is extremely questionable for his job.

Criticism to President Obama comes from home as well. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell demands the President modify the bill and include Republican ideas (“Top Republican: Scrap 'buy American' stimulus clause”; AFP; February 3, 2009).

President Obama must understand that America’s best products use imported appliances, and this creates more employment in the United States. M1 tank, which is the pride of the US Army, uses British designed armor and German gun. Without them, a substantial number of American workers will lose their jobs. America needs crème de la crème products from Europe and Japan, and vice versa.

Those who were fascinated by Obama simply because of annoyance with Bush’s cowboy diplomacy are naïve. They were mesmerized, and did not think of the consequence. It is desirable that current cabinet staff change the President into the real leader of the superpower. Will he defend our free trade and liberal world order? Well, President Obama went on the razzle-dazzle with pop entertainers during the Ukrainian crisis…….