Following up on the recent military and energy agreements with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Russia has now announced a deal to sell five military helicopters to Bolivia. Ambassador Leonid Golubev called it the "first step" in military cooperation with the country's anti-American government:
We want to show the United States that Latin America is not their backyard," Golubev said Tuesday. "We also have interests in various spheres, including military ones."
I get the basic idea here: "You play around in our backyard, we'll play in yours."
But the Russians are kidding themselves if they actually think Americans will be that rattled by Bolivia buying five helicopters. Yes, Latin America is traditionally the United States' sphere of influence, but Americans understand that concept in a fundamentally different way than Russians understand their "near abroad" in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
When U.S.-supported "color revolutions" overthrew Russian-backed governments in Ukraine and Georgia, many Russians (and high-ranking ones) feared they were next on the American regime change list. NATO expansion in Eastern Europe is seen as a direct military threat.
Chávez and Evo Morales certainly aren't well-liked in Washington, but most foreign-policy mavens here see them more as angry buffoons or strategic obstacles, not serious threats to America's sovereignty.
Venezuela and Bolivia are resource-rich countries with a major aversion to yanqui imperialism, so it makes sense that Russia would want to cultivate ties with them. But the Kremlin shouldn't think that Americans will fret about developments in Bolivia in the same way that Russians worry about Georgia or Ukraine. Honestly, the country has bigger things to worry about right now.
While everyone has been dissecting whether Obama called Palin a pig, or whether Palin insulted Obama's community organizing, we've missed some rather massive mud-flinging in the United States' backyard.
Last night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez told the United States to "Go to hell a hundred times." In front of an applauding crowd, he yelled "We have had enough of so much s**t from you, s**t Yankees!" as he expelled the U.S. ambassador, giving him just 72 hours to leave. Watch him here:
I know: Chávez has always been something of a loose cannon (he enjoys calling President George W. Bush a donkey, the devil, and other colorful names). But to think this is nothing more than his usual Yankee-bashing would be a mistake. Minor crisis would be a better interpretation.
The Venezuelan strongman's outburst comes after his neighbor and left-wing soulmate Evo Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador earlier this week, accusing him of backing conservative opposition movements now protesting in the streets. The United States in turn kicked out Bolivia's ambassador.
Bolivia is in far more trouble than just having a few picketers on the street. Morales has proposed drastic energy and government reforms, to be voted upon in December, that would consolidate his power and allow him to redistribute agricultural land. Protesters, demanding a greater autonomy from the government in the natural gas industry, have shut down much of the country and dozens have been killed in street fighting. Perhaps emboldened by joint exercises with Russia, Chávez promised to militarily intervene if his buddy Morales is lifted from power.
But the U.S. government is in no mood for such funny business. Not only has the State Department sent the Venezuelan ambassador packing, but the Treasury Department today called out Venezuelan officials for helping the cocaine-trafficking rebel group FARC in neighboring Colombia.
"Today's designation exposes two senior Venezuelan government officials and one former official who armed, abetted, and funded the FARC, even as it terrorized and kidnapped innocents," said Adam J. Szubin, director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, in a toughly worded press release. Interpol accusations that Venezuela -- and even Chávez himself -- aided the FARC first surfaced this summer after Colombia got its hands on a FARC laptop, but this is the first time the U.S. government has formally charged any Venezuelan officials.
No doubt Chávez has a response up his sleeve.
ABC News has released excerpts of Sarah Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson, which airs in T-minus-22 minutes. Here's what the Republican vice presidential nominee has to say about Russia:
We cannot repeat the Cold War. We are thankful that, under Reagan, we won the Cold War, without a shot fired, also. We've learned lessons from that in our relationship with Russia, previously the Soviet Union.
We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it's in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.
GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?
PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.
GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.
PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.
Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but...
GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?
PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.
But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to -- especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.
We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.
GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.
PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.
And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.
It doesn't have to lead to war and it doesn't have to lead, as I said, to a Cold War, but economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.
His mission, if it is to control energy supplies, also, coming from and through Russia, that's a dangerous position for our world to be in, if we were to allow that to happen.
I have to wonder if John McCain and Barack Obama ever ask themselves if they really want the job they're campaigning so hard for. Because on the victor's first day in office, there won't be much popping of champagne corks.
From today's Washington Post:
An intelligence forecast being prepared for the next president on future global risks envisions a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades, as the world is reshaped by globalization, battered by climate change, and destabilized by regional upheavals over shortages of food, water and energy.
The report, previewed in a speech by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community's top analyst, also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority -- military power -- will "be the least significant" asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because "nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force."
The remarks are based on the forthcoming report Global Trends 2025, prepared by the U.S. intelligence community to anticipate threats to America in the next few decades. Most of the predominant challenges identified aren't surprising: shrinking U.S. economic influence, weaker international institutions, energy insecurity and competition, and political and economic upheaval around the world due to climate change.
What is more interesting, perhaps, as the Post notes, is the absence of terrorism on that list. Fingar's remarks seem to ignore any threat from Pakistan, focusing instead on the perils of nuclear-armed Iran. That does seem to smack of the intel community taking its eye off the ball.
Dick Cheney's trip to the Caucasus and Eastern Europe got very little press here in the U.S. thanks to all the election and economic news, but apparently things got a bit testy during the vice president's stop in Azerbaijan. The good folks at Eurasianet report:
Over the past few days, details have leaked out that indicate that Cheney’s September 3 visit to Baku was a spectacular diplomatic failure. A report published by the Russian daily Kommersant, which cited sources within President Ilham Aliyev’s administration, said the Cheney visit started with a snub, as neither Aliyev nor Prime Minister Artur Rasizade were at the airport to greet the US vice president, who was the highest ranking American official ever to visit Azerbaijan.
Cheney was in Baku to press the Azerbaijani government to commit to the planned Nabucco pipeline, which would deliver Caspian oil and gas to Europe without involving Russia, but got a definite maybe from Aliyev, who wants to maintain good relations with the Kremlin. Cheney was reportedly "extremely irritated" by Aliyev's wishy-washy stance and things only got worse from there:
Compounding Cheney’s displeasure, immediately following the discussions Aliyev reportedly telephoned Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev to inform the Kremlin about the substance of the US energy stance. [...] In a fit of pique, Cheney skipped a reception held in Baku in his honor, according to Azerbaijani sources.
Guess that Cheney charm isn't what it used to be. It makes you wonder though, could it really have gone that much worse if they had sent the hockey mom from Wasilla instead of the seasoned foreign policy vet?
Condoleezza Rice has already raised some eyebrows during this election by passing on a chance to explicitly endorse John McCain. In a new interview with CNN, the U.S. Secretary of State also doesn't seem too excited by his choice of running mate. The last quote in this excerpt seems destined to become a classic:
These are decisions that Senator McCain has made. I have great confidence in him." Confidence in Palin? Rice didn't say.
Rice added: "I'm not going to get involved in this political campaign. As Secretary of State, I don’t do that. But I thought her speech was wonderful."
Comparing Vice President Cheney's foreign policy background [with] Palin's, the interviewer asked Rice to respond to critics who say she "just won't be able to handle it."
Rice's response: " There are difference kinds of experience in life that help one to deal with matters of foreign policy."
More Rice: "You know, she's governor of a state here in the United States."
Stop the presses.
It's reasonable and even admirable that the secretary of state wants to stay out of the partisan fray, but as someone who's spent eight years giving foreign policy advice to another former governor with no previous international experience, she's in a unique position to comment on the preparedness question. In this light, her non-response seems quite significant.
Condeleezza Rice heads to Libya today, ending a 55-year dry spell in American visitors to the North African country. The goals look ambitious: set the framework for military and diplomatic agreements, educational cooperation, and more trade. That could mean a fancy new U.S. embassy in Libya, complete with ambassador -- a role unfilled to date.
Quite a change from the old days, when U.S. presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush portrayed Muammar el-Qaddafi as a terror-sponsoring boogeyman, particularly for his role in downing Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. Back then, Libya's leader lived and breathed his self-authored Green Book of political philosophy, an odd mix of populism and his own cult of personality.
So what happened? As FP highlights in this week's photo essay, most days of the week, Qaddafi looks like a changed man. Nearly four years ago, he relinquinshed his weapons of mass destruction, prompting world leaders to lift sanctions on his regime.
But on other days, he looks like the same old Qaddafi and one might wonder exactly what Rice hopes she can accomplish. He has promised to pay compensation to victims of the flight he downed, but funds have been slow to arrive in the designated Swiss bank account. According to Human Rights Watch, life for Libya's people hasn't changed one bit:
Scores of Libyans are still in prison – some of them disappeared – simply for expressing peaceful criticism of the government and its leaders."
In short, no one is sure just how 'changed' the new Qaddafi is. Rice looks eager to push this as one of the administration's foreign policy successes, so overlooking the details might be a necessary evil. Qaddafi has promised that his new capitalist reforms will result in "creative chaos." Yet that is precisely the language he has always used to describe his country: a chaos over which only he can preside.
Whatever reservations Rice might have about visiting Libya, Qaddafi certainly seems excited to see her, if this Al-Jazeera interview is any indication:
I support my darling black African woman," he said. "I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders ... Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. ... I love her very much. I admire her, and I'm proud of her, because she's a black woman of African origin."Who knows, if she's lucky, maybe Rice will even get a souvenir Green Book.
Two weeks ago, an operation aimed at Taliban insurgents in the Afghan village of Azizabad looked like a public relations mess for the United States. The United Nations reported that the airstrikes killed no less than 90 civilians. Protests shot up in the local town, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack.
Ninety civilian casualties? Nope, say U.S. investigators today, who put the number instead at just five. All the others killed -- somewhere between 30 and 35 people -- were Taliban insurgents.
Could it just be the way we are counting? Besides, who really is a civilian?
In fact, there is an official definition, found in a 1977 addition to the Geneva Convention -- but it reads like a confused doctors' diagnosis of exclusion. If you're not carrying a gun for somebody or for some reason, chances are you're a civilian. The lines gets blurry when you start feeding the fighters, housing them, or just plain looking like them.
I suspect that the United States, perhaps more focused on controlling a rebounding Taliban insurgency, might define a combatant a bit more loosely than does the United Nations. Or perhaps the "civilian" witnesses that both camps interviewed simply had motives for either exaggerating or supressing the death count, depending on who was asking the questions.
Questions should keep being asked, though, as long as one-liners like this one keep popping up:
On Tuesday, NATO said it accidentally killed four children in Paktika province with artillery fire.
Not a good way to win hearts and minds.
It's been a busy couple of days for Muammar el-Qaddafi. In addition to embracing capitalism and accepting an apology from Italy, the Libyan leader will host Condoleezza Rice later this week. It's the first visit by an American secretary of state to Libya since 1953:
"It is a historic stop," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "It certainly does mark a new chapter in U.S.-Libya relations."
McCormack said the decision to visit Libya was also "tangible evidence" the United States did not harbor permanent enemies and served as an example to nations such as Iran, which has refused to give up its sensitive nuclear work that the West believes is aimed at building a nuclear bomb.
Libya's transformation from a corrupt, authoritarian sponsor-of-terror into a corrupt, authoritarian non-sponsor-of-terror is just one of accomplishments that David Frum attributes to the Bush administration in his FP cover story on Bush's legacy.
Qaddafi is known for having what some might call a unique style when it comes to diplomacy so this meeting should be interesting to watch.
Whenever a new conflict breaks out somewhere in the world, commentators like to trot their old favorite whipping boy: Francis Fukuyama's much-misunderstood essay-turned-book, The End of History and the Last Man.
"See! History hasn't ended," they say, pointing to the September 11 attacks or Russia's war with Georgia or the latest dire situation in Somalia.
Of course, many of these commentators have probably never actually read Fukuyama's argument, which uses the word "history' in a very particular way -- it's History with a capital "H," as in the process of dialectical change, the grand sweep of big ideas and economic trends that Marx talked about. In Marx's estimation, communism was the logical ideological end point of this process, but Fukuyama saw "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government" in the long run. He never believed that everything would be all gum drops and lollipops.
THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD THING [about my idea, the “end of history”] was the word ‘history.’ People thought I was saying that nothing was going to happen after the Cold War.
And if you haven't read it already, check out Fukuyama's very smart essay in this Sunday's Washington Post -- a nice counterpoint to all the hysteria about whether we are entering a new age of autocracy. "While bullies can still throw their weight around, democracy and capitalism still have no real competitors," he writes. I see no reason to believe he is wrong.
Via Andrew Sullivan, here's a clever interactive map from Mother Jones that color-codes countries by the number of U.S. troops stationed there. The scroll bar allows you to see how levels have changed over time since 1950 in five-year increments. You can watch the troop presence in Vietnam gradually increase over the course of 20 years before disappearing completely, or see the military's several arrivals and departures from Iraq over the last half century. You can also click on a country to get more details.
I think Joe Biden is a smart choice for Barack Obama. With nearly 36 years in Washington and much of it atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Delaware senator's got decades of knowledge about how the U.S. national-security apparatus works and a clear-eyed, unromantic view of America's role in the world.
This experience has made Biden nothing if not extremely confident in his views, which makes him well suited to play the role of Democratic attack dog on foreign policy.
One of his favorite tactics is ridicule: Everyone remembers him saying that a Rudy Giuliani sentence has only three words: "a noun, a verb, and 9/11" during the primary season. But Biden's a pretty serious guy, too. He believes Democrats, who usually poll below Republicans on national security, shouldn't "play defense on foreign affairs," and he leads by example in his frequent op-eds and appearances on the Sunday talk shows.
Watch him take on President Bush here on Meet the Press:
The big rap on Biden, of course, is that he's gaffe-prone and likes to talk, and that's certainly true. Dana Milbank had some fun with the prolix Delaware senator after his questioning of Bush Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.:
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), in his first 12 minutes of questioning the nominee, managed to get off only one question. Instead, during his 30-minute round of questioning, Biden spoke about his own Irish American roots, his "Grandfather Finnegan," his son's application to Princeton (he attended the University of Pennsylvania instead, Biden said), a speech the senator gave on the Princeton campus, the fact that Biden is "not a Princeton fan," and his views on the eyeglasses of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Biden's got a good sense of humor about it, though: Watch him eat humble pie on the Daily Show just after he called Barack Obama "the first mainstream African-American... who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Asked during one of the Democratic debates if he thought he could control himself as president, he simply said, "Yes."
But as much as he likes to talk, Biden's actually a pretty nuanced foreign-policy thinker. He doesn't have strong ideological views, so he's hard to pigeonhole. Looking over his statements and policies over the years, I'd say he hews to a pragmatic form of liberal internationalism backed by American power. I think he takes his responsibilities very seriously.
He uses the term "national interests" frequently, but he's not quite a Scowcroftian realist -- as his push for action in the Balkans and Sudan demonstrates. Nor is he quite a "liberal hawk," either. He has little patience for sweeping rhetoric about how the United States is bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, and he doesn't (unlike certain other Democratic senators who were passed over for veep) default to the hawkish position on national security just for the sake of sounding "tough". He believes that some situations call for toughness (Sudan) while others call for engagement (Iran). He understands both the need for and the limits of multilateral institutions, and he doesn't see multilateralism as an end in itself, unlike some in his party.
That said, Biden doesn't bat 100 percent. He went ahead and supported the Iraq war despite warning that President Bush was underestimating the risks (he now says he didn't realize Bush would be so incompetent and that he thought Saddam could be deposed by other means). He called the surge "a tragic mistake" in February 2007 while John McCain has backing it wholeheartedly.
But he has gotten lots of other issues right, in my view: He has been calling for years for more resources in Afghanistan, for a more coherent U.S. relationship with Russia, for engagement with Iran, for a broader U.S. strategy toward Pakistan, and so on.
How much influence will Biden have on Obama's foreign-policy views? We'll have to see. But I imagine it will be considerable. Biden doesn't seem like the kind of guy who will simply stick to the talking points he's handed. Should be fun to watch.
Any minute now, Barack Obama may announce his running mate. It could easily be somebody off the media radar (e.g. Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, Texas Rep. Chet Edwards), but these are the four names that have been batted around most often by the cognoscenti.
So, my colleagues Joshua Keating, Patrick Fitzgerald, and I put this handy list of quotes together to help you get a read on how Obama's veep choice views the world. Feel free, of course, to chime in via comments with your own citations.
Joseph Biden, Jr., Delaware senator, 65
Biden on Iraq: "The president should begin a responsible redeployment of our combat forces from Iraq so that we can meet the many other challenges we face around the world, starting with taking the fight to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the people who actually attacked us on 9-11."
—Press release, July 18, 2008
Biden on Afghanistan: "Afghanistan is slipping toward failure. The Taliban is back, violence is up, drug production is booming and the Afghans are losing faith in their government. All the legs of our strategy — security, counternarcotics efforts, reconstruction and governance — have gone wobbly.... If we should have had a surge anywhere, it is Afghanistan."
—New York Times, Mar. 2, 2008
Biden on Russia: "Ever since President Bush infamously gazed into Mr. Putin's soul in 2001, Washington has used photo opportunities as a proxy for a serious Russia policy. The administration has airbrushed Russian belligerence and rebuffed some sensible Kremlin proposals, such as legally-binding extensions to arms control treaties.... Our top priority should be nuclear nonproliferation and arms control, including a common approach to Iran and the security of Russia's own weapons and nuclear materials."
—Wall Street Journal, Mar. 24, 2008
Biden on trade: "Every new trade agreement should have built into it... [e]nvironmental standards and labor standards. But we talk about it in terms of preserving jobs here, but it's also about human rights. Signing an agreement knowing they're going to exploit workers either by polluting their lungs or their drinking water and/or putting them in a position where they're getting paid a couple bucks a week. So it should be a condition to every trade agreement that we engage in."
—2007 Des Moines Register Democratic Debate, Dec. 13, 2007
Evan Bayh, Indiana senator, 52
Bayh on Iraq: "To those who say the threat is not imminent, after 9/11, how long can we afford to wait? To those who say regime change is not an appropriate reason for acting, I say weapons of mass destruction and the regime of Saddam Hussein are one and indivisible. To remove weapons of mass destruction, we must remove that regime. To think anything else is to delude ourselves."
—Senate floor, Oct. 8, 2002
Bayh on Afghanistan: "We have five times as many troops stationed in Iraq as we do in Afghanistan currently. How do we -- how do you square that, when the threat currently is greater in terms of a terrorist strike from one place and yet we're devoting five times of the amount of resources and troops to a different place?"
—Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Iraq, Apr. 8, 2008
Bayh on Russia: "[T]he continued participation of the Russian Federation in the Group of 8 nations should be conditioned on the Russian Government voluntarily accepting and adhering to the norms and standards of democracy."
—109th CONGRESS, 1st Session, S. CON. RES. 14, Feb. 17, 2005 (a Senate resolution cosponsored by Sens. Bayh, Lieberman, and McCain)
Bayh on trade: "America must commit itself… to doing those things that are necessary to succeed in the global marketplace. Nothing else will do. We cannot wall up our country. We cannot shut out those with whom we would compete."
—Senate floor, Apr. 27, 2005
Tim Kaine, Virginia governor, 50
Kaine on Iraq: "Our troops are doing a great job over there. That doesn't change the fact that the rationale we were given is wrong and we need to have a plausible strategy for withdrawing from Iraq, and I think that is something that Prime Minister al-Maliki has said."
—CNN, Aug. 6, 2008
Kaine on Afghanistan: "The story of what the United States is accomplishing in Afghanistan is remarkable in many ways, more noble and less morally and operationally complicated than our efforts in Iraq… In just a few short years, the Afghans have written a constitution, elected a president and now seated a parliament... [M]ost Afghans appreciate what we are doing and want us to stay."
—Kabul, Afghanistan, Mar. 17, 2006
Kaine on Russia: "[T]he goal is to use diplomatic means to get Russia to live by the cease-fire. And if diplomacy is the strategy at this point, measured tones is the way to go. And I think that kind of balance is what the situation needs."
—Meet the Press, Aug. 17, 2008
Kaine on trade: "The only way you'll succeed is by being an aggressive competitor rather than trying to hoard your dwindling assets.''
—Bloomberg, May 30, 2008
Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas governor, 60
Of all the contenders, the Kansas governor's beliefs about foreign affairs are the least well known. She has made few specific comments on U.S. policy, focusing instead on how America's overseas engagements have sapped the country's resources and morale:
"Well, states all over the country are not only missing personnel, National Guard troops are -- about 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but we’re missing the equipment. When the troops get deployed, the equipment goes with them."
—CNN, May 7, 2007
"The last five years have cost us dearly -- in lives lost; in thousands of wounded warriors whose futures may never be the same; in challenges not met here at home because our resources were committed elsewhere. America's foreign policy has left us with fewer allies and more enemies."
—State of the Union response, January 28, 2008
President George W. Bush once called for the doubling of the Peace Corps. Barack Obama did too. Economic reality, however, may have the last word, as the declining dollar and rising energy and commodity costs have left the organization facing a budget shortfall:
Those factors "have materially reduced our available resources and spending power," Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter wrote in a July 22 letter to Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the program. "Tough budgetary decisions must be made now in order to ensure a financially healthy agency next fiscal year," he added.
Congress may still come to the rescue, but that may not necessarily be a good thing. FP readers will recall Robert L. Strauss's "Think Again: The Peace Corps" from April, where the former Peace Corps country director wrote that the Corps has "never lived up to its purpose or principles."
One of Strauss's solutions is for the Peace Corps to "concentrate its resources in a limited number of countries that are truly interested in the development of their people." Paring down the budget, therefore, may help the organization in the long run if the right calls are made.
Last month, I blogged about the roundball diplomacy during the NBA's summer league in Utah, where Iran's national team was invited to participate as part of its preparations for the Olympics. The gesture was, by most accounts, a success, even though the squad subsequently went winless in Beijing.
Along the way, Iranian center Hamed Ehadadi piqued the interest of NBA scouts. The 7-2 Ehadadi averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds during the Olympics, capping the games with a 21-point, 16-rebound performance against a strong Argentina team, which faces the United States in the semifinals tomorrow.
Of course, as with all things Iran, there was a catch: The NBA informed its teams last week that it had "been advised that a federal statue prohibits a person or organization in the United States from engaging in business dealings with Iranian nationals." Ehadadi's NBA dreams had been dashed -- and it seemed like another missed opportunity for more roundball diplomacy.
Not so fast, however. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control has now offered its stamp of approval, and NBA teams are free to sign Ehadadi, pending final approval from the league and OFAC. Ehadadi expects to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies:
I will undoubtedly join Memphis Grizzlies by the end of next week. I met Memphis' officials yesterday to discuss joining the team… I received many offers from European teams but just playing in the NBA is my dream. Hopefully, I can join Memphis as soon as possible without any problem.
Ehadadi may not turn out to be a star in the NBA, but chalk up another victory for roundball diplomacy. David Stern is far from a perfect commissioner, but his emphasis on making basketball a global game appears to be paying off. Even if, in some cases, it works too well.
With the space shuttle set to retire in 2010, and its replacement not ready until 2015, the United States had been planning on hitchhiking to the International Space Station for a few years. That may be a bit of a problem now, as the one country with the ability to transport to and from the station turns out to be -- you guessed it -- Russia.
Beyond the rising rhetorical showdown between the two sides, there's also a legal roadblock that may prevent further space cooperation with Russia. The United States needs to negotiate a new contract with the Russian space program, which may be difficult because Congress must first pass a waiver to a 2000 law banning government contracts with states who supported nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. That includes -- you guessed it -- Russia.
In an election year with an increasingly bellicose Moscow, that's "almost impossible," says Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a supporter of the waiver who admits America is stuck between a rock and a hard place:
It is a lose-lose situation," Nelson said.
"If our relationship with Russia is strained, who knows if Russia will give us rides in the future?" Nelson asked. "Or if they give us rides, will they charge such an exorbitant price that it becomes blackmail?"
Still, who knows what relations with Russia will be like in 2010? Even if the Cold War is truly back, that doesn't necessarily spell the end of U.S.-Soviet -- er, Russian -- space cooperation. A lot could change in the next few years.
Negotiators have finally hammered out a deal to base U.S. interceptor missiles in Poland. After a deal was reached to base a radar system in the Czech Republic in July, the Poles were the final holdout for America's controversial missile shield, but the agreement was delayed by the Polish demands for Patriot missiles. According to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, that demand has been met.
This has been in the works for nearly 18 months and was sure to be resolved eventually, but the timing of this announcement makes it hard not to wonder if events in the Caucasus didn't help to move things along. Poland, having seen what can happen to other wayward countries on Russia's periphery, is sure to welcome an American troop presence while the United States, which hasn't done much to help its ally Georgia, gets to demonstrate that it still has friends in the former Eastern bloc.
Russia would appear to have few options for punishing Poland, a member of both the EU and NATO with a far larger military and economy than Georgia, but after last week it would be foolish to underestimate what Vladimir Putin can accomplish with limited military and political resources.
UPDATE: Killer quote from Tusk:
Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later - it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of - knock on wood - any possible conflict."
President Bush just wrapped up a four-day stay in Beijing, where he caught plenty of action from the sidelines (and on the volleyball courts). Avid sports fan that he is, Bush clearly enjoyed himself, spending his final day in China cheering on the U.S. men's swimming team as they clenched victory in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay.
I guess Bush's decision to opt for an extended Olympic vacation in the midst of Georgia's crisis shouldn't come as a shock. After all, he does have a history of notoriously slow reactions to catastrophic events (Hurricane Katrina, anyone?). Still, you'd think the prez would have wanted to at least appear to be in crisis mode by returning to his home office ASAP. Georgians certainly must feel that way.
Bush hasn't completely ignored the conflict: He reportedly got round-the-clock coverage from aides in Beijing. And he did make a few increasingly tough statements briefly before returning to Washington and speaking on it this evening, saying, "The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on."
But the fact that he devoted much of his past few days to Kobe Bryant's jump shot, Misty May-Treanor's fanny, and Michael Phelps's medal hopes rather than Georgia's plight makes his words ring a little hollow this evening.
As Andrew Kramer and Ellen Barry's heartbreaking report from Gori makes clear, Georgians feel betrayed and abandoned by their American allies. The Russian media isn't really reporting it that way though:
We support Georgia's territorial integrity and call for an immediate cease-fire. We urge all parties, including Georgians, South Ossetians and Russians to de-escalate and avoid conflict."
Barack Obama said basically the same thing:
Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected. All sides should enter into direct talks on behalf of stability in Georgia, and the United States, the United Nations Security Council, and the international community should fully support a peaceful resolution to this crisis."
The problem with these statements is that they seem to ignore the fact that it was Georgia that started shooting yesterday, not Russia. There isn't a direct contradiction between supporting Georgia's territorial integrity and demanding an end to the fighting but in the context of this situation it's pretty close.
Not surprisingly, John McCain was more directly critical of Russia:
Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations, withdraw all forces from the sovereign territory of Georgia," McCain told reporters in Iowa. "The U.S should immediately convene an emergency session of the U.N. security council to call on Russia to reverse course."
Of course, there's a strong argument to be made that Russia has been trying to push Georgia into this war, but McCain seems to be either unaware of Mikheil Saakashvili's own role in escalating the conflict or deliberately downplaying it.
There's no doubt that the United States' close relationship with Saakashvili puts it in an awkward spot here and it will be interesting to see what form the American response eventually takes.
Update: Same line from the White House:
I want to reiterate on [President Bush's] behalf that the United States supports Georgia's territorial integrity and we call for an immediate ceasefire," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement in Beijing where Bush was attending the Olympics.
During the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many social scientists have decried the U.S. Defense Department's lack of cultural sensitivity. Now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former president of Texas A&M University, is doing something about it. He has announced Project Minerva, which will fund research by social scientists on topics such as the influence of religion and economics on terrorism.
Rather than welcoming Project Minerva, however, many academics, particularly anthropologists, oppose it. In the recent FP Web exclusive "When Professors Go to War," anthropologist Hugh Gusterson wrote that many anthropologists -- who are in a largely left-leaning discipline -- simply won't stomach being funded by the Pentagon. Thus, those social scientists who do apply for funding will be a thin slice who have no qualms about accepting the Defense Department's money. This will lead to "selection bias," in which only a narrow range of perspectives end up being funded.
In response, Duke University professor Peter Feaver argues this week in "Pentagon Funding? Bring It On." that the challenge of selection bias can be overcome and that Gates is committed to openness and academic freedom. Proposals will be selected on the importance of the topic being investigated and the quality of the methodology -- and not on whether the results will end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy for the military.
What do you all think? Should social scientists be funded by the Defense Department in an effort to bring more cultural sensitivity to the military's methods? Who's right? Gusterson or Feaver?
What the Middle East portion of Obama's trip highlighted is that on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Israel, his positions all fit quite comfortably into what the Council on Foreign Relation's Walter Russell Mead calls "a loose bipartisan consensus" now emerging on policy toward the region — a consensus, Mead argues, that's "closer to Bush's views than to those of the antiwar activists who propelled [Obama] to [his party's] nomination." A painful thought for some on the left, to be sure. But a fact that robs McCain of a potentially powerful point of contrast.
The McCain response to all this -- John doesn't need daily talking points -- is a reflection on Obama's learning curve, although McCain is also very clearly learning as he is going, too.
Matt Yglesias complains:
It's true that, in some sense, McCain doesn't need daily talking points. But the reason he doesn't need daily talking points isn't that he can talk about national security issues with fluency and skill without them. Lacking daily talking points, he's repeatedly confused Sunni and Shiite, repeatedly forgotten that Czechoslovakia doesn't exist, changed his position on Afghanistan twice in 24 hours, etc. In short, he's made a ton of gaffes just as you would expect from an underprepared candidate. But he's allowed to get away with a lack of adequate preparation because, in the mind of the press, his years in captivity decades ago are adequate demonstration that he understands national security issues even though there's no real basis for that view.
Please. McCain doesn't need an advisor to inform him that the Czech Republic and Slovakia are separate nations. He knows this; he just misspoke (twice). Ditto for the Sunni/Shiite stuff. It happens when you age. And "the press," of course, isn't letting McCain get away with anything -- just how did we find out about all this? Maybe CzechoslovakiaGate and these other gaffes have failed to light up the cable networks simply because they aren't really a big deal.
As usual, John Bolton is absolutely right. His policy prescriptions may be reckless to the point of foolishness ("When in doubt, bomb!"), but his understanding of what is happening in Washington policy... is unerringly accurate.
While much of the world was hyperventilating over the possibility that the United States (and maybe Israel) were getting ready to launch a new war against Iran, Bolton was looking at the realities and concluding that far from bombing, the U.S. was preparing to do a deal with Iran. He had noticed that over the past two years the U.S. had completely reversed its position opposing European talks with Iran.
First, the U.S. indicated that it would participate if the negotiations showed progress. Then, when they didn't, we went further and actively participated in negotiating a new and more attractive offer of incentives to Iran. Bolton noticed that when that package was delivered to Tehran by Xavier Solana, the signature of one Condoleezza Rice was there, along with representatives of the other five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
He had probably also noticed Secretary Rice's suggestion of possibly opening a U.S. interests section in Tehran -- the first step toward reestablishing diplomatic relations. And he didn't overlook the softening of rhetoric in Under Secretary William Burns's recent testimony to the Congress about Iran [pdf].
Now, just one day after Bolton's cry of alarm that the U.S. is going soft on Iran, we learn that the same Bill Burns will participate directly in the talks that are going to be held on Saturday in Geneva with the chief Iranian negotiator on the nuclear file. Bolton's worst suspicions seem to be confirmed.
Unlike many observers and commentators, Bolton has been looking, not at what the U.S. administration says, but what it does. Ever since the congressional elections of 2006, the U.S. has been in the process of a fundamental change in its policy on a number of key issues: the Arab-Israel dispute, the North Korean nuclear issue, and Iran. Since the administration proclaims loudly that its policies have not changed, and since the tough rhetoric of the past dominates the discussion, it is easy to overlook what is actually going on.
Bolton no doubt noticed that Rumsfeld is gone and replaced with Robert Gates, a very different sort of secretary of defense. He will have observed that the worst of the neocons (including himself) are now writing books and spending more time with families and friends, cheerleading for more war by writing op-eds from the outside rather than pursuing their strategies in policy meetings in the White House.
He will have seen the gradual shift of the policy center of gravity from Dick Cheney to Rice and Gates. He will have been listening when the Chairman of the JCS and others have said as clearly as they realistically can that the military option, though never renounced as a theoretical possibility, is the least attractive option available to us and in fact is close to impossible given our overstretch in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In other words, Bolton, as someone whose policies (in my view) are certifiably insane, recognizes real pragmatism and moderation in Washington when he sees it. And he does not like what he sees in this lame duck administration.
Over the past two or three years, we have been treated to one sensational threat after another about the likelihood of imminent war with Iran. All of these alarms and predictions have one thing in common: they never happened. Perhaps it is time for us to join Bolton in looking at the real indicators. When Bolton quits writing his jeremiads or when he begins to express satisfaction with the direction of U.S. policy, that is when we should start to get worried.
This is an interesting new development:
In a break with past Bush administration policy, a top U.S. diplomat will for the first time join colleagues from other world powers at a weekend meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator... William Burns, America's third highest-ranking diplomat, will attend talks with the Iranian envoy, Saeed Jalili, in Switzerland on Saturday aimed at persuading Iran to halt activities that could lead to the development of atomic weapons, a senior U.S. official told the AP on Tuesday.
I wouldn't get my hopes up just yet for this move. As the official told the AP, "This is a one-time event and [Burns] will be there to listen, not negotiate... [O]ur terms for negotiations remain the same: Iran must suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities."
The diplomats will be looking to hear Iran's answer to the latest package of incentives offered by the P5+1 (the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany). Judging by the Islamic Republic's initial response (pdf), we're likely to hear a lot of bluster and claims that Iran is being treated unfairly. But who knows? Maybe Burns's presence could change the dynamic.
Meet David Remes, a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling and pro bono attorney for 15 Yemenis held at Guantanamo. Since 2005, Remes, who is half Yemeni, has been a high-profile member of the legal team challenging captives' detention at Gitmo.
And now, click here -- if you dare -- to see Remes at a recent news conference where, for some inexplicable reason, he decided that dropping trou' was a good way to show the assembled press corps just what his clients have had to endure.
Just what comparison was he trying to draw? That his clients were made to stand around in their underwear? It's an utter mystery. But one enigma has been cleared up: He's not a boxers man.
Though it's the one remaining member of the "Axis of Evil," the value of U.S. exports to Iran has reportedly increased tenfold since George Bush took office. While there are reportedly strict rules about what the U.S. can ship over there, they apparently aren't too limited--US tobacco companies have reportedly exported $158 million worth of cigarettes to the nation since 2000, more than any other product. The U.S. has also sold Iran about $12.6 million worth of bull semen. You're welcome, Mr. Ahmadinejad.
The value of yearly trade with Iran has skyrocketed from $8 million in 2001 to $146 million in 2007, totalling $546 million since the president's tenure began. Yet Bush keeps pushing multi-country sanctions on Iran. Looks like he either hasn't been paying attention to this trade increase or has just turned a blind eye.
For more, check out this video.
As expected, Moscow is apoplectic about the missile defense agreement signed by the Czech Republic and U.S. today in Prague. The Russian foreign ministry issued this ominous-sounding statement in response:
"We will be forced to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods."
The statement did not specify what those methods might be. As I said yesterday, while Vladimir Putin's government isn't known to make idle threats, it isn't really clear what options Russia has for punishing the impudent Czechs. The AP story brings up a statement Putin made back in February suggesting that Russian missiles could be placed in the Baltic Sea region of Kaliningrad to threaten Eastern European states, but that just seems likely to push the Czech government toward more cooperation with the U.S. military.
Guess what guys, it's not 1968 anymore.
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