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Category Archives: foreign policy

By George Friedman ~ Honorary Political Season Contributor
The United States apparently has reached the point where it must either accept that Iran will develop nuclear weapons at some point if it wishes, or take military action to prevent this. There is a third strategy, however: Washington can seek to redefine the Iranian question.
As we have no idea what leaders on either side are thinking, exploring this represents an exercise in geopolitical theory. Let’s begin with the two apparent stark choices.

Diplomacy vs. the Military Option

The diplomatic approach consists of creating a broad coalition prepared to impose what have been called crippling sanctions on Iran. Effective sanctions must be so painful that they compel the target to change its behavior. In Tehran’s case, this could only consist of blocking Iran’s imports of gasoline. Iran imports 35 percent of the gasoline it consumes. It is not clear that a gasoline embargo would be crippling, but it is the only embargo that might work. All other forms of sanctions against Iran would be mere gestures designed to give the impression that something is being done.
The Chinese will not participate in any gasoline embargo. Beijing gets 11 percent of its oil from Iran, and it has made it clear it will continue to deliver gasoline to Iran. Moscow’s position is that Russia might consider sanctions down the road, but it hasn’t specified when, and it hasn’t specified what. The Russians are more than content seeing the U.S. bogged down in the Middle East and so are not inclined to solve American problems in the region. With the Chinese and Russians unlikely to embargo gasoline, these sanctions won’t create significant pain for Iran. Since all other sanctions are gestures, the diplomatic approach is therefore unlikely to work.
The military option has its own risks. First, its success depends on the quality of intelligence on Iran’s nuclear facilities and on the degree of hardening of those targets. Second, it requires successful air attacks. Third, it requires battle damage assessments that tell the attacker whether the strike succeeded. Fourth, it requires follow-on raids to destroy facilities that remain functional. And fifth, attacks must do more than simply set back Iran’s program a few months or even years: If the risk of a nuclear Iran is great enough to justify the risks of war, the outcome must be decisive.
Each point in this process is a potential failure point. Given the multiplicity of these points — which includes others not mentioned — failure may not be an option, but it is certainly possible.
But even if the attacks succeed, the question of what would happen the day after the attacks remains. Iran has its own counters. It has a superbly effective terrorist organization, Hezbollah, at its disposal. It has sufficient influence in Iraq to destabilize that country and force the United States to keep forces in Iraq badly needed elsewhere. And it has the ability to use mines and missiles to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf shipping lanes for some period — driving global oil prices through the roof while the global economy is struggling to stabilize itself. Iran’s position on its nuclear program is rooted in the awareness that while it might not have assured options in the event of a military strike, it has counters that create complex and unacceptable risks. Iran therefore does not believe the United States will strike or permit Israel to strike, as the consequences would be unacceptable.
To recap, the United States either can accept a nuclear Iran or risk an attack that might fail outright, impose only a minor delay on Iran’s nuclear program or trigger extremely painful responses even if it succeeds. When neither choice is acceptable, it is necessary to find a third choice.

Redefining the Iranian Problem

As long as the problem of Iran is defined in terms of its nuclear program, the United States is in an impossible place. Therefore, the Iranian problem must be redefined. One attempt at redefinition involves hope for an uprising against the current regime. We will not repeat our views on this in depth, but in short, we do not regard these demonstrations to be a serious threat to the regime. Tehran has handily crushed them, and even if they did succeed, we do not believe they would produce a regime any more accommodating toward the United States. The idea of waiting for a revolution is more useful as a justification for inaction — and accepting a nuclear Iran — than it is as a strategic alternative.
At this moment, Iran is the most powerful regional military force in the Persian Gulf. Unless the United States permanently stations substantial military forces in the region, there is no military force able to block Iran. Turkey is more powerful than Iran, but it is far from the Persian Gulf and focused on other matters at the moment, and it doesn’t want to take on Iran militarily — at least not for a very long time. At the very least, this means the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq. Baghdad is too weak to block Iran from the Arabian Peninsula, and the Iraqi government has elements friendly toward Iran.
Historically, regional stability depended on the Iraqi-Iranian balance of power. When it tottered in 1990, the result was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The United States did not push into Iraq in 1991 because it did not want to upset the regional balance of power by creating a vacuum in Iraq. Rather, U.S. strategy was to re-establish the Iranian-Iraqi balance of power to the greatest extent possible, as the alternative was basing large numbers of U.S. troops in the region.
The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 assumed that once the Baathist regime was destroyed the United States would rapidly create a strong Iraqi government that would balance Iran. The core mistake in this thinking lay in failing to recognize that the new Iraqi government would be filled with Shiites, many of whom regarded Iran as a friendly power. Rather than balancing Iran, Iraq could well become an Iranian satellite. The Iranians strongly encouraged the American invasion precisely because they wanted to create a situation where Iraq moved toward Iran’s orbit. When this in fact began happening, the Americans had no choice but an extended occupation of Iraq, a trap both the Bush and Obama administrations have sought to escape.
It is difficult to define Iran’s influence in Iraq at this point. But at a minimum, while Iran may not be able to impose a pro-Iranian state on Iraq, it has sufficient influence to block the creation of any strong Iraqi government either through direct influence in the government or by creating destabilizing violence in Iraq. In other words, Iran can prevent Iraq from emerging as a counterweight to Iran, and Iran has every reason to do this. Indeed, it is doing just this.

The Fundamental U.S.-Iranian Issue

Iraq, not nuclear weapons, is the fundamental issue between Iran and the United States. Iran wants to see a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq so Iran can assume its place as the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. The United States wants to withdraw from Iraq because it faces challenges in Afghanistan — where it will also need Iranian cooperation — and elsewhere. Committing forces to Iraq for an extended period of time while fighting in Afghanistan leaves the United States exposed globally. Events involving China or Russia — such as the 2008 war in Georgia — would see the United States without a counter. The alternative would be a withdrawal from Afghanistan or a massive increase in U.S. armed forces. The former is not going to happen any time soon, and the latter is an economic impossibility.
Therefore, the United States must find a way to counterbalance Iran without an open-ended deployment in Iraq and without expecting the re-emergence of Iraqi power, because Iran is not going to allow the latter to happen. The nuclear issue is simply an element of this broader geopolitical problem, as it adds another element to the Iranian tool kit. It is not a stand-alone issue.
The United States has an interesting strategy in redefining problems that involves creating extraordinarily alliances with mortal ideological and geopolitical enemies to achieve strategic U.S. goals. First consider Franklin Roosevelt’s alliance with Stalinist Russia to block Nazi Germany. He pursued this alliance despite massive political outrage not only from isolationists but also from institutions like the Roman Catholic Church that regarded the Soviets as the epitome of evil.
Now consider Richard Nixon’s decision to align with China at a time when the Chinese were supplying weapons to North Vietnam that were killing American troops. Moreover, Mao — who had said he did not fear nuclear war as China could absorb a few hundred million deaths — was considered, with reason, quite mad. Nevertheless, Nixon, as anti-Communist and anti-Chinese a figure as existed in American politics, understood that an alliance (and despite the lack of a formal treaty, alliance it was) with China was essential to counterbalance the Soviet Union at a time when American power was still being sapped in Vietnam.
Roosevelt and Nixon both faced impossible strategic situations unless they were prepared to redefine the strategic equation dramatically and accept the need for alliance with countries that had previously been regarded as strategic and moral threats. American history is filled with opportunistic alliances designed to solve impossible strategic dilemmas. The Stalin and Mao cases represent stunning alliances with prior enemies designed to block a third power seen as more dangerous.
It is said that Ahmadinejad is crazy. It was also said that Mao and Stalin were crazy, in both cases with much justification. Ahmadinejad has said many strange things and issued numerous threats. But when Roosevelt ignored what Stalin said and Nixon ignored what Mao said, they each discovered that Stalin’s and Mao’s actions were far more rational and predictable than their rhetoric. Similarly, what the Iranians say and what they do are quite different.

U.S. vs. Iranian Interests

Consider the American interest. First, it must maintain the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. The United States cannot tolerate interruptions, and that limits the risks it can take. Second, it must try to keep any one power from controlling all of the oil in the Persian Gulf, as that would give such a country too much long-term power within the global system. Third, while the United States is involved in a war with elements of the Sunni Muslim world, it must reduce the forces devoted to that war. Fourth, it must deal with the Iranian problem directly. Europe will go as far as sanctions but no further, while the Russians and Chinese won’t even go that far yet. Fifth, it must prevent an Israeli strike on Iran for the same reasons it must avoid a strike itself, as the day after any Israeli strike will be left to the United States to manage.
Now consider the Iranian interest. First, it must guarantee regime survival. It sees the United States as dangerous and unpredictable. In less than 10 years, it has found itself with American troops on both its eastern and western borders. Second, it must guarantee that Iraq will never again be a threat to Iran. Third, it must increase its authority within the Muslim world against Sunni Muslims, whom it regards as rivals and sometimes as threats.
Now consider the overlaps. The United States is in a war against some (not all) Sunnis. These are Iran’s enemies, too. Iran does not want U.S. troops along its eastern and western borders. In point of fact, the United States does not want this either. The United States does not want any interruption of oil flow through Hormuz. Iran much prefers profiting from those flows to interrupting them. Finally, the Iranians understand that it is the United States alone that is Iran’s existential threat. If Iran can solve the American problem its regime survival is assured. The United States understands, or should, that resurrecting the Iraqi counterweight to Iran is not an option: It is either U.S. forces in Iraq or accepting Iran’s unconstrained role.
Therefore, as an exercise in geopolitical theory, consider the following. Washington’s current options are unacceptable. By redefining the issue in terms of dealing with the consequences of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there are three areas of mutual interest. First, both powers have serious quarrels with Sunni Islam. Second, both powers want to see a reduction in U.S. forces in the region. Third, both countries have an interest in assuring the flow of oil, one to use the oil, the other to profit from it to increase its regional power.
The strategic problem is, of course, Iranian power in the Persian Gulf. The Chinese model is worth considering here. China issued bellicose rhetoric before and after Nixon’s and Kissinger’s visits. But whatever it did internally, it was not a major risk-taker in its foreign policy. China’s relationship with the United States was of critical importance to China. Beijing fully understood the value of this relationship, and while it might continue to rail about imperialism, it was exceedingly careful not to undermine this core interest.
The major risk of the third strategy is that Iran will overstep its bounds and seek to occupy the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf. Certainly, this would be tempting, but it would bring a rapid American intervention. The United States would not block indirect Iranian influence, however, from financial participation in regional projects to more significant roles for the Shia in Arabian states. Washington’s limits for Iranian power are readily defined and enforced when exceeded.
The great losers in the third strategy, of course, would be the Sunnis in the Arabian Peninsula. But Iraq aside, they are incapable of defending themselves, and the United States has no long-term interest in their economic and political relations. So long as the oil flows, and no single power directly controls the entire region, the United States does not have a stake in this issue.
Israel would also be enraged. It sees ongoing American-Iranian hostility as a given. And it wants the United States to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat. But eliminating this threat is not an option given the risks, so the choice is a nuclear Iran outside some structured relationship with the United States or within it. The choice that Israel might want, a U.S.-Iranian conflict, is unlikely. Israel can no more drive American strategy than can Saudi Arabia.
From the American standpoint, an understanding with Iran would have the advantage of solving an increasingly knotty problem. In the long run, it would also have the advantage of being a self-containing relationship. Turkey is much more powerful than Iran and is emerging from its century-long shell. Its relations with the United States are delicate. The United States would infuriate the Turks by doing this deal, forcing them to become more active faster. They would thus emerge in Iraq as a counterbalance to Iran. But Turkey’s anger at the United States would serve U.S. interests. The Iranian position in Iraq would be temporary, and the United States would not have to break its word as Turkey eventually would eliminate Iranian influence in Iraq.
Ultimately, the greatest shock of such a maneuver on both sides would be political. The U.S.-Soviet agreement shocked Americans deeply, the Soviets less so because Stalin’s pact with Hitler had already stunned them. The Nixon-Mao entente shocked all sides. It was utterly unthinkable at the time, but once people on both sides thought about it, it was manageable.
Such a maneuver would be particularly difficult for U.S. President Barack Obama, as it would be widely interpreted as another example of weakness rather than as a ruthless and cunning move. A military strike would enhance his political standing, while an apparently cynical deal would undermine it. Ahmadinejad could sell such a deal domestically much more easily. In any event, the choices now are a nuclear Iran, extended airstrikes with all their attendant consequences, or something else. This is what something else might look like and how it would fit in with American strategic tradition.

“This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

By George Friedman~Honorary Political Season Contributor

As August draws to a close, so does the first phase of the Obama presidency. The first months of any U.S. presidency are spent filling key positions and learning the levers of foreign and national security policy. There are also the first rounds of visits with foreign leaders and the first tentative forays into foreign policy. The first summer sees the leaders of the Northern Hemisphere take their annual vacations, and barring a crisis or war, little happens in the foreign policy arena. Then September comes and the world gets back in motion, and the first phase of the president’s foreign policy ends. The president is no longer thinking about what sort of foreign policy he will have; he now has a foreign policy that he is carrying out.

We therefore are at a good point to stop and consider not what U.S. President Barack Obama will do in the realm of foreign policy, but what he has done and is doing. As we have mentioned before, the single most remarkable thing about Obama’s foreign policy is how consistent it is with the policies of former President George W. Bush. This is not surprising. Presidents operate in the world of constraints; their options are limited. Still, it is worth pausing to note how little Obama has deviated from the Bush foreign policy.

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, particularly in its early stages, Obama ran against the Iraq war. The centerpiece of his early position was that the war was a mistake, and that he would end it. Obama argued that Bush’s policies — and more important, his style — alienated U.S. allies. He charged Bush with pursuing a unilateral foreign policy, alienating allies by failing to act in concert with them. In doing so, he maintained that the war in Iraq destroyed the international coalition the United States needs to execute any war successfully. Obama further argued that Iraq was a distraction and that the major effort should be in Afghanistan. He added that the United States would need its NATO allies’ support in Afghanistan. He said an Obama administration would reach out to the Europeans, rebuild U.S. ties there and win greater support from them.

Though around 40 countries cooperated with the United States in Iraq, albeit many with only symbolic contributions, the major continental European powers — particularly France and Germany — refused to participate. When Obama spoke of alienating allies, he clearly meant these two countries, as well as smaller European powers that had belonged to the U.S. Cold War coalition but were unwilling to participate in Iraq and were now actively hostile to U.S. policy.

A European Rebuff

Early in his administration, Obama made two strategic decisions. First, instead of ordering an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, he adopted the Bush administration’s policy of a staged withdrawal keyed to political stabilization and the development of Iraqi security forces. While he tweaked the timeline on the withdrawal, the basic strategy remained intact. Indeed, he retained Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, to oversee the withdrawal.

Second, he increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Bush administration had committed itself to Afghanistan from 9/11 onward. But it had remained in a defensive posture in the belief that given the forces available, enemy capabilities and the historic record, that was the best that could be done, especially as the Pentagon was almost immediately reoriented and refocused on the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Toward the end, the Bush administration began exploring — under the influence of Gen. David Petraeus, who designed the strategy in Iraq — the possibility of some sort of political accommodation in Afghanistan.

Obama has shifted his strategy in Afghanistan to this extent: He has moved from a purely defensive posture to a mixed posture of selective offense and defense, and has placed more forces into Afghanistan (although the United States still has nowhere near the number of troops the Soviets had when they lost their Afghan war). Therefore, the core structure of Obama’s policy remains the same as Bush’s except for the introduction of limited offensives. In a major shift since Obama took office, the Pakistanis have taken a more aggressive stance (or at least want to appear more aggressive) toward the Taliban and al Qaeda, at least within their own borders. But even so, Obama’s basic strategy remains the same as Bush’s: hold in Afghanistan until the political situation evolves to the point that a political settlement is possible.

Most interesting is how little success Obama has had with the French and the Germans. Bush had given up asking for assistance in Afghanistan, but Obama tried again. He received the same answer Bush did: no. Except for some minor, short-term assistance, the French and Germans were unwilling to commit forces to Obama’s major foreign policy effort, something that stands out.

Given the degree to which the Europeans disliked Bush and were eager to have a president who would revert the U.S.-European relationship to what it once was (at least in their view), one would have thought the French and Germans would be eager to make some substantial gesture rewarding the United States for selecting a pro-European president. Certainly, it was in their interest to strengthen Obama. That they proved unwilling to make that gesture suggests that the French and German relationship with the United States is much less important to Paris and Berlin than it would appear. Obama, a pro-European president, was emphasizing a war France and Germany approved of over a war they disapproved of and asked for their help, but virtually none was forthcoming.

The Russian Non-Reset

Obama’s desire to reset European relations was matched by his desire to reset U.S.-Russian relations. Ever since the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in late 2004 and early 2005, U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated dramatically, with Moscow charging Washington with interfering in the internal affairs of former Soviet republics with the aim of weakening Russia. This culminated in the Russo-Georgian war last August. The Obama administration has since suggested a “reset” in relations, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually carrying a box labeled “reset button” to her spring meeting with the Russians.

The problem, of course, was that the last thing the Russians wanted was to reset relations with the United States. They did not want to go back to the period after the Orange Revolution, nor did they want to go back to the period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Orange Revolution. The Obama administration’s call for a reset showed the distance between the Russians and the Americans: The Russians regard the latter period as an economic and geopolitical disaster, while the Americans regard it as quite satisfactory. Both views are completely understandable.

The Obama administration was signaling that it intends to continue the Bush administration’s Russia policy. That policy was that Russia had no legitimate right to claim priority in the former Soviet Union, and that the United States had the right to develop bilateral relations with any country and expand NATO as it wished. But the Bush administration saw the Russian leadership as unwilling to follow the basic architecture of relations that had developed after 1991, and as unreasonably redefining what the Americans thought of as a stable and desirable relationship. The Russian response was that an entirely new relationship was needed between the two countries, or the Russians would pursue an independent foreign policy matching U.S. hostility with Russian hostility. Highlighting the continuity in U.S.-Russian relations, plans for the prospective ballistic missile defense installation in Poland, a symbol of antagonistic U.S.-Russian relations, remain unchanged.

The underlying problem is that the Cold War generation of U.S. Russian experts has been supplanted by the post-Cold War generation, now grown to maturity and authority. If the Cold warriors were forged in the 1960s, the post-Cold warriors are forever caught in the 1990s. They believed that the 1990s represented a stable platform from which to reform Russia, and that the grumbling of Russians plunged into poverty and international irrelevancy at that time is simply part of the post-Cold War order. They believe that without economic power, Russia cannot hope to be an important player on the international stage. That Russia has never been an economic power even at the height of its influence but has frequently been a military power doesn’t register. Therefore, they are constantly expecting Russia to revert to its 1990s patterns, and believe that if Moscow doesn’t, it will collapse — which explains U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s interview in The Wall Street Journal where he discussed Russia’s decline in terms of its economic and demographic challenges. Obama’s key advisers come from the Clinton administration, and their view of Russia — like that of the Bush administration — was forged in the 1990s.

Foreign Policy Continuity Elsewhere

When we look at U.S.-China policy, we see very similar patterns with the Bush administration. The United States under Obama has the same interest in maintaining economic ties and avoiding political complications as the Bush administration did. Indeed, Hillary Clinton explicitly refused to involve herself in human rights issues during her visit to China. Campaign talk of engaging China on human rights issues is gone. Given the interests of both countries, this makes sense, but it is also noteworthy given the ample opportunity to speak to China on this front (and fulfill campaign promises) that has arisen since Obama took office (such as the Uighur riots).

Of great interest, of course, were the three great openings of the early Obama administration, to Cuba, to Iran, and to the Islamic world in general through his Cairo speech. The Cubans and Iranians rebuffed his opening, whereas the net result of the speech to the Islamic world remains unclear. With Iran we see the most important continuity. Obama continues to demand an end to Tehran’s nuclear program, and has promised further sanctions unless Iran agrees to enter into serious talks by late September.

On Israel, the United States has merely shifted the atmospherics. Both the Bush and Obama administrations demanded that the Israelis halt settlements, as have many other administrations. The Israelis have usually responded by agreeing to something small while ignoring the larger issue. The Obama administration seemed ready to make a major issue of this, but instead continued to maintain security collaboration with the Israelis on Iran and Lebanon (and we assume intelligence collaboration). Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has not allowed the settlements to get in the way of fundamental strategic interests.

This is not a criticism of Obama. Presidents — all presidents — run on a platform that will win. If they are good presidents, they will leave behind these promises to govern as they must. This is what Obama has done. He ran for president as the antithesis of Bush. He has conducted his foreign policy as if he were Bush. This is because Bush’s foreign policy was shaped by necessity, and Obama’s foreign policy is shaped by the same necessity. Presidents who believe they can govern independent of reality are failures. Obama doesn’t intend to fail.

U.S. Military Set to Intercept North Korean Ship Suspected of Proliferating Missiles, Nukes – Political News – FOXNews.com

Ever since the campaign and the infamous “3 a.m.” ad, every foreign policy crisis or controversy gets advanced as Obama’s 3 a.m. moment by somebody. Here at the Season, we opined back in May that the real 3 a.m. moment was fast approaching, and that one of two places was going to provoke that call: N. Korea or Pakistan. The only question was which country was going to win the race for top foreign policy headache honors.

Its beginning to look like the winner will be N. Korea. The US military is tracking a cargo ship that left port in N. Korea on June 18th, apparently bound for Singapore. Operating currently in Chinese waters, its headed out to international waters and the US Defense officials have told Fox News that the USS John McCain will intercept it. That ship is positioning itself to do that.

Now, the UN sanctions only allow the US to hail the North Korean ship and demand to be allowed to conduct a search, but not forcibly board it I cannot think of anything that smacks of impotence more than having an American warship ask for permission to inspect, be summarily refused and then have it go on its merry way while we issue empty protests. The only way that makes sense is if you’re building the case for UN authorization to board ships at will, but that would seem redundant given N. Korea’s manifest intransigence. So if President Obama indeed orders the USS John McCain (isn’t that a delicious irony) to actually intercept the Kang Nam, we will indeed have a ring side seat for Obama’s 3 a.m. moment. Stay tuned.

Update: Nightwatch reports – US press services reported that a North Korean arms carrier has departed the port of Nampo. This appears to be a genuine arms shipment to an unidentified recipient as well as a test of the new UN Security Council sanctions on proliferation.

The US Navy announced yesterday that it will request permission to board North Korean merchant ships suspected of carrying contraband, but it will not board without permission. The best opportunity to stop North Korean proliferation is at ports of call.

Make no mistake: this is a deliberate North Korean test of the new sanctions regime. If the ship is boarded, the North warned yesterday that it will respond with military violence. The North Korean warnings must be taken at face value, under current circumstances. They are not kidding. Conditions are set for an armed confrontation, but which is still avoidable. This is a warning.

Political Season Response: We are about to find out if Obama has the cahones or not. The N. Koreans are a thug regime. They take what they want and they respect only strength and resolve greater than their own. Obama has a smart, detached intellect, that much we know. Now we are about to find out whether his spine is made of steel or rubber. Its gut check time.

Update II: Obama, today on N. Korea – “North Korea has a path toward rejoining the international community, and we hope they take that path,” said Mr. Obama on Monday in a prerecorded interview on CBS. “What we’re not going to do is to reward belligerence and provocation in the way that’s been done in the past.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) returned from Cuba yesterday from meetings with the Castro brothers and other Cuban officials. CBC members renewed calls for an end or at least an easing of the blockade of the island, now in place for 41 years and counting.

I can’t say I have any quarrel with the idea of ending the embargo altogether. If we can be entirely okay with communist China owning the nation’s debt while it sells us lead filled toys for our children, surely we can endure trade with this tiny island neighbor of ours. So the policy viewpoint that the embargo should be lifted is certainly rational.

However, I am bothered by the uncritical nature of the cheerleading for a change in policy towards the Castro regime. I don’t see any acknowledgment of the massive repression of individual liberties which exists under the Castro regime. Some argue that race plays a part in the formulation of foreign policy relative to Cuba, that the Cuban revolution had a significant racial dynamic to it in that the revolution was largely an uprising of dark skinned Cubans rebelling against a Batista regime dominated by light skinned or white Cubans and that those Cubans who fled the revolution were overwhelmingly white Cubans. Thats an intriguing prism through which to view Cuba’s history.

There is a significant Afro-Cuban community within and without the US and so its reasonable that the CBC would have some engagement on Cuban policy. But that does not abrogate some responsibility on the part of CBC members to call out the repression practiced by the Cuban regime, especially given the Afro-Cuban makeup of the island’s population. Barbara Lee and other CBC members travel to Cuba and meet with Castro and return to talk about how eager Castro is for a change in relationship with the US, but I have to wonder if they asked him about his eagerness to address the regimes suppression of human rights and individual freedoms in the name of the state.

The regime’s repressive nature is manifest:

  • Cubans cannot change their government through democratic means. Fidel Castro dominates the political system, having transformed the country into a one-party state with the Cuban communist Party (PCC) controlling all governmental entities from the national to the local level.
  • Castro is responsible for every appointment and controls every lever of power in Cuba in his various roles as president of the Council of Ministers, chairman of the Council of State, commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and first secretary of the PCC.
  • All political organizing outside the PCC is illegal. Political dissent, spoken or written, is a punishable offense, and those so punished frequently receive years of imprisonment for seemingly minor infractions.
  • Official corruption remains a serious problem, with a “culture of illegality” shrouding the mixture of private and state-controlled economic activities allowed on the island. Cuba was ranked 62 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions index.
  • The press in Cuba is the object of a targeted campaign of intimidation by the government, which uses Ministry of Interior agents to infiltrate and report on the independent media. Independent journalists, particularly those associated with five small news agencies established outside state control, have been subjected to continued repression, including jail terms of hard labor and assaults by state security agents while in prison. Foreign news agencies must hire local reporters only through government offices.
  • In 2004, 22 independent journalists arrested in March 2003 remained imprisoned in degrading conditions, which included physical and psychological abuse; acts of harassment and intimidation were also directed against their families.
  • In October 2002, the U.S. State Department issued a report saying that Cuba was one of six countries that engaged in widespread repression of religion. Security agents frequently spy on worshippers, the government continues to block construction of new churches, the number of new foreign priests is limited, and most new denominations are refused recognition.
  • The government restricts academic freedom. Teaching materials for courses such as mathematics or literature must have an ideological content. Affiliation with official Communist Party structures is generally needed to gain access to educational institutions, and students’ report cards carry information regarding their parents’ involvement with the Communist Party

  • Limited rights of assembly and association are permitted under the constitution; however, these are subject to the stipulation that they may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the Socialist State.” The unauthorized assembly of more than three persons, including those for private religious services in private homes, is punishable by law by up to 3 months in prison and a fine. This prohibition is selectively enforced, and is sometimes used as a legal pretext to imprison human rights advocates.
  • Workers do not have the right to bargain collectively or to strike. Members of independent labor unions, which the government considers illegal, are often harassed or dismissed from their jobs and subsequently barred from future employment.
  • The executive branch controls the judiciary. In practice, the Council of State, of which Castro is chairman, serves as a de facto judiciary and controls both the courts and the judicial process as a whole.
  • Freedom of movement and the right to choose one’s residence and place of employment are severely restricted. Attempting to leave the island without permission is a punishable offense.

Did Barbara Lee and the other CBC members express any concern to Castro about these issues? They met with families of the Cuban Five, five Cuban men who are in U.S. prison, serving four life sentences and 75 years collectively, after being convicted in U.S. federal court in 2001 of espionage and conspiracy against the United States, and other related charges, though there is an active movement that charges they were wrongly convicted. But there was no mention that the CBC met with any of the families of dissidents jailed by the Cuban government. Do CBC members have no interest in the people of Cuba imprisoned for simply speaking out against the regime?

Its appropriate for the CBC to take an interest in Cuban policy given the African American and Afro-Cuban connections between the US and Cuba, but to engage in that discussion with not a critical word regarding the governments repression of its own people really makes CBC members appear to be very unthinking and lacking in level headed analysis. Supporting liberalization in Cuban policy without a critical word about this government, a government that they would not want to live under for one second, a government that rules repressively over an entire population of Afro-Cubans whom the CBC is sympathetic too, is a very limp knee jerk, leftist liberal viewpoint. I don’t think one could even call it progressive given that it is so lacking in any critique of the Castro government’s repressive nature, which is every bit as damaging and harmful to Cuba’s people as the US embargo. I listened to Barbara Lee’s remarks to the press upon her return from Cuba and at least in the portion I heard, there was not a single reference made to the repression of the Castro government. Bobby Rush, qouted in the LA Times ,who was also part of the delegation, was positively gushing:

“I think that what really surprised me, but also endeared me to him, was his keen sense of humor, his sense of history and his basic human qualities,”

Are you kidding me? This is as silly sounding as Bush’s comment about looking into Putin’s soul, a silliness however countered and tempered by the fact that you could never accuse Bush of having an uncritical view of Russia.

The CBC should stop shilling for the Castro regime in this manner. Am I off base here? Does it not strike anyone else that there is something unseemly about the CBC championing a change in relations while ignoring the very repressive nature of Castro’s government over an island full of black people?

PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images

A fire in the dome of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai on Nov. 26

Stratfor.Com Red Alert
If the Nov. 26 attacks in Mumbai were carried out by Islamist militants as it appears, the Indian government will have little choice, politically speaking, but to blame them on Pakistan. That will in turn spark a crisis between the two nuclear rivals that will draw the United States into the fray.

Analysis

At this point the situation on the ground in Mumbai remains unclear following the militant attacks of Nov. 26. But in order to understand the geopolitical significance of what is going on, it is necessary to begin looking beyond this event at what will follow. Though the situation is still in motion, the likely consequences of the attack are less murky.

We will begin by assuming that the attackers are Islamist militant groups operating in India, possibly with some level of outside support from Pakistan. We can also see quite clearly that this was a carefully planned, well-executed attack.

Given this, the Indian government has two choices. First, it can simply say that the perpetrators are a domestic group. In that case, it will be held accountable for a failure of enormous proportions in security and law enforcement. It will be charged with being unable to protect the public. On the other hand, it can link the attack to an outside power: Pakistan. In that case it can hold a nation-state responsible for the attack, and can use the crisis atmosphere to strengthen the government’s internal position by invoking nationalism. Politically this is a much preferable outcome for the Indian government, and so it is the most likely course of action. This is not to say that there are no outside powers involved — simply that, regardless of the ground truth, the Indian government will claim there were.

That, in turn, will plunge India and Pakistan into the worst crisis they have had since 2002. If the Pakistanis are understood to be responsible for the attack, then the Indians must hold them responsible, and that means they will have to take action in retaliation — otherwise, the Indian government’s domestic credibility will plunge. The shape of the crisis, then, will consist of demands that the Pakistanis take immediate steps to suppress Islamist radicals across the board, but particularly in Kashmir. New Delhi will demand that this action be immediate and public. This demand will come parallel to U.S. demands for the same actions, and threats by incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to force greater cooperation from Pakistan.

If that happens, Pakistan will find itself in a nutcracker. On the one side, the Indians will be threatening action — deliberately vague but menacing — along with the Americans. This will be even more intense if it turns out, as currently seems likely, that Americans and Europeans were being held hostage (or worse) in the two hotels that were attacked. If the attacks are traced to Pakistan, American demands will escalate well in advance of inauguration day.

There is a precedent for this. In 2002 there was an attack on the Indian parliament in Mumbai by Islamist militants linked to Pakistan. A near-nuclear confrontation took place between India and Pakistan, in which the United States brokered a stand-down in return for intensified Pakistani pressure on the Islamists. The crisis helped redefine the Pakistani position on Islamist radicals in Pakistan.

In the current iteration, the demands will be even more intense. The Indians and Americans will have a joint interest in forcing the Pakistani government to act decisively and immediately. The Pakistani government has warned that such pressure could destabilize Pakistan. The Indians will not be in a position to moderate their position, and the Americans will see the situation as an opportunity to extract major concessions. Thus the crisis will directly intersect U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

It is not clear the degree to which the Pakistani government can control the situation. But the Indians will have no choice but to be assertive, and the United States will move along the same line. Whether it is the current government in India that reacts, or one that succeeds doesn’t matter. Either way, India is under enormous pressure to respond. Therefore the events point to a serious crisis not simply between Pakistan and India, but within Pakistan as well, with the government caught between foreign powers and domestic realities. Given the circumstances, massive destabilization is possible — never a good thing with a nuclear power.

This is thinking far ahead of the curve, and is based on an assumption of the truth of something we don’t know for certain yet, which is that the attackers were Muslims and that the Pakistanis will not be able to demonstrate categorically that they weren’t involved. Since we suspect they were Muslims, and since we doubt the Pakistanis can be categorical and convincing enough to thwart Indian demands, we suspect that we will be deep into a crisis within the next few days, very shortly after the situation on the ground clarifies itself.

By George Friedman ~ Honorary Political Season Contributor

Three weeks after the U.S. presidential election, we are getting the first signs of how President-elect Barack Obama will govern. That now goes well beyond the question of what is conventionally considered U.S. foreign policy — and thus beyond Stratfor’s domain. At this moment in history, however, in the face of the global financial crisis, U.S. domestic policy is intimately bound to foreign policy. How the United States deals with its own internal financial and economic problems will directly affect the rest of the world.

One thing the financial crisis has demonstrated is that the world is very much America-centric, in fact and not just in theory. When the United States runs into trouble, so does the rest of the globe. It follows then that the U.S. response to the problem affects the rest of the world as well. Therefore, Obama’s plans are in many ways more important to countries around the world than whatever their own governments might be planning.

Over the past two weeks, Obama has begun to reveal his appointments. It will be Hillary Clinton at State and Timothy Geithner at Treasury. According to persistent rumors, current Defense Secretary Robert Gates might be asked to stay on. The national security adviser has not been announced, but rumors have the post going to former Clinton administration appointees or to former military people. Interestingly and revealingly, it was made very public that Obama has met with Brent Scowcroft to discuss foreign policy. Scowcroft was national security adviser under President George H.W. Bush, and while a critic of the younger Bush’s policies in Iraq from the beginning, he is very much part of the foreign policy establishment and on the non-neoconservative right. That Obama met with Scowcroft, and that this was deliberately publicized, is a signal — and Obama understands political signals — that he will be conducting foreign policy from the center.

Consider Clinton and Geithner. Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq war — a major bone of contention between Obama and her during the primaries. She is also a committed free trade advocate, as was her husband, and strongly supports continuity in U.S. policy toward Israel and Iran. Geithner comes from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he participated in crafting the strategies currently being implemented by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Everything Obama is doing with his appointments is signaling continuity in U.S. policy.

This does not surprise us. As we have written previously, when Obama’s precise statements and position papers were examined with care, the distance between his policies and John McCain’s actually was minimal. McCain tacked with the Bush administration’s position on Iraq — which had shifted, by the summer of this year, to withdrawal at the earliest possible moment but without a public guarantee of the date. Obama’s position was a complete withdrawal by the summer of 2010, with the proviso that unexpected changes in the situation on the ground could make that date flexible.

Obama supporters believed that Obama’s position on Iraq was profoundly at odds with the Bush administration’s. We could never clearly locate the difference. The brilliance of Obama’s presidential campaign was that he convinced his hard-core supporters that he intended to make a radical shift in policies across the board, without ever specifying what policies he was planning to shift, and never locking out the possibility of a flexible interpretation of his commitments. His supporters heard what they wanted to hear while a careful reading of the language, written and spoken, gave Obama extensive room for maneuver. Obama’s campaign was a master class on mobilizing support in an election without locking oneself into specific policies.

As soon as the election results were in, Obama understood that he was in a difficult political situation. Institutionally, the Democrats had won substantial victories, both in Congress and the presidency. Personally, Obama had won two very narrow victories. He had won the Democratic nomination by a very thin margin, and then won the general election by a fairly thin margin in the popular vote, despite a wide victory in the electoral college.

Many people have pointed out that Obama won more decisively than any president since George H.W. Bush in 1988. That is certainly true. Bill Clinton always had more people voting against him than for him, because of the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot in 1992 and 1996. George W. Bush actually lost the popular vote by a tiny margin in 2000; he won it in 2004 with nearly 51 percent of the vote but had more than 49 percent of the electorate voting against him. Obama did a little better than that, with about 53 percent of voters supporting him and 47 percent opposing, but he did not change the basic architecture of American politics. He still had won the presidency with a deeply divided electorate, with almost as many people opposed to him as for him.

Presidents are not as powerful as they are often imagined to be. Apart from institutional constraints, presidents must constantly deal with public opinion. Congress is watching the polls, as all of the representatives and a third of the senators will be running for re-election in two years. No matter how many Democrats are in Congress, their first loyalty is to their own careers, and collapsing public opinion polls for a Democratic president can destroy them. Knowing this, they have a strong incentive to oppose an unpopular president — even one from their own party — or they might be replaced with others who will oppose him. If Obama wants to be powerful, he must keep Congress on his side, and that means he must keep his numbers up. He is undoubtedly getting the honeymoon bounce now. He needs to hold that.

Obama appears to understand this problem clearly. It would take a very small shift in public opinion polls after the election to put him on the defensive, and any substantial mistakes could sink his approval rating into the low 40s. George W. Bush’s basic political mistake in 2004 was not understanding how thin his margin was. He took his election as vindication of his Iraq policy, without understanding how rapidly his mandate could transform itself in a profound reversal of public opinion. Having very little margin in his public opinion polls, Bush doubled down on his Iraq policy. When that failed to pay off, he ended up with a failed presidency.

Bush was not expecting that to happen, and Obama does not expect it for himself. Obama, however, has drawn the obvious conclusion that what he expects and what might happen are two different things. Therefore, unlike Bush, he appears to be trying to expand his approval ratings as his first priority, in order to give himself room for maneuver later. Everything we see in his first two weeks of shaping his presidency seems to be designed two do two things: increase his standing in the Democratic Party, and try to bring some of those who voted against him into his coalition.

In looking at Obama’s supporters, we can divide them into two blocs. The first and largest comprises those who were won over by his persona; they supported Obama because of who he was, rather than because of any particular policy position or because of his ideology in anything more than a general sense. There was then a smaller group of supporters who backed Obama for ideological reasons, built around specific policies they believed he advocated. Obama seems to think, reasonably in our view, that the first group will remain faithful for an extended period of time so long as he maintains the aura he cultivated during his campaign, regardless of his early policy moves. The second group, as is usually the case with the ideological/policy faction in a party, will stay with Obama because they have nowhere else to go — or if they turn away, they will not be able to form a faction that threatens his position.

What Obama needs to do politically, then, is protect and strengthen the right wing of his coalition: independents and republicans who voted for him because they had come to oppose Bush and, by extension, McCain. Second, he needs to persuade at least 5 percent of the electorate who voted for McCain that their fears of an Obama presidency were misplaced. Obama needs to build a positive rating at least into the mid-to-high 50s to give him a firm base for governing, and leave himself room to make the mistakes that all presidents make in due course.

With the example of Bush’s failure before him, as well as Bill Clinton’s disastrous experience in the 1994 mid-term election, Obama is under significant constraints in shaping his presidency. His selection of Hillary Clinton is meant to nail down the rightward wing of his supporters in general, and Clinton supporters in particular. His appointment of Geithner at the Treasury and the rumored re-appointment of Gates as secretary of defense are designed to reassure the leftward wing of McCain supporters that he is not going off on a radical tear. Obama’s gamble is that (to select some arbitrary numbers), for every alienated ideological liberal, he will win over two lukewarm McCain supporters.

To those who celebrate Obama as a conciliator, these appointments will resonate. For those supporters who saw him as a fellow ideologue, he can point to position papers far more moderate and nuanced than what those supporters believed they were hearing (and were meant to hear). One of the political uses of rhetoric is to persuade followers that you believe what they do without locking yourself down.

His appointments match the evolving realities. On the financial bailout, Obama has not at all challenged the general strategy of Paulson and Bernanke, and therefore of the Bush administration. Obama’s position on Iraq has fairly well merged with the pending Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq. On Afghanistan, Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has suggested negotiations with the Taliban — while, in moves that would not have been made unless they were in accord with Bush administration policies, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has offered to talk with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and the Saudis reportedly have offered him asylum. Tensions with Iran have declined, and the Israelis have even said they would not object to negotiations with Tehran. What were radical positions in the opening days of Obama’s campaign have become consensus positions. That means he is not entering the White House in a combat posture, facing a disciplined opposition waiting to bring him down. Rather, his most important positions have become, if not noncontroversial, then certainly not as controversial as they once were.

Instead, the most important issue facing Obama is one on which he really had no position during his campaign: how to deal with the economic crisis. His solution, which has begun to emerge over the last two weeks, is a massive stimulus package as an addition — not an alternative — to the financial bailout the Bush administration crafted. This new stimulus package is not intended to deal with the financial crisis but with the recession, and it is a classic Democratic strategy designed to generate economic activity through federal programs. What is not clear is where this leaves Obama’s tax policy. We suspect, some recent suggestions by his aides not withstanding, that he will have a tax cut for middle- and lower-income individuals while increasing tax rates on higher income brackets in order to try to limit deficits.

What is fascinating to see is how the policies Obama advocated during the campaign have become relatively unimportant, while the issues he will have to deal with as president really were not discussed in the campaign until September, and then without any clear insight as to his intentions. One point we have made repeatedly is that a presidential candidate’s positions during a campaign matter relatively little, because there is only a minimal connection between the issues a president thinks he will face in office and the ones that he actually has to deal with. George W. Bush thought he would be dealing primarily with domestic politics, but his presidency turned out to be all about the U.S.-jihadist war, something he never anticipated. Obama began his campaign by strongly opposing the Iraq war — something that has now be come far less important than the financial crisis, which he didn’t anticipate dealing with at all.

So, regardless of what Obama might have thought his presidency would look like, it is being shaped not by his wishes, but by his response to external factors. He must increase his political base — and he will do that by reassuring skeptical Democrats that he can work with Hillary Clinton, and by showing soft McCain supporters that he is not as radical as they thought. Each of Obama’s appointments is designed to increase his base of political support, because he has little choice if he wants to accomplish anything else.

As for policies, they come and go. As George W. Bush demonstrated, an inflexible president is a failed president. He can call it principle, but if his principles result in failure, he will be judged by his failure and not by his principles. Obama has clearly learned this lesson. He understands that a president can’t pursue his principles if he has lost the ability to govern. To keep that ability, he must build his coalition. Then he must deal with the unexpected. And later, if he is lucky, he can return to his principles, if there is time for it, and if those principles have any relevance to what is going on around him. History makes presidents. Presidents rarely make history.

By George Friedman

Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate for president. His advisers in foreign policy are generally Democrats. Together they carry with them an institutional memory of the Democratic Party’s approach to foreign policy, and are an expression of the complexity and divisions of that approach. Like their Republican counterparts, in many ways they are going to be severely constrained as to what they can do both by the nature of the global landscape and American resources. But to some extent, they will also be constrained and defined by the tradition they come from. Understanding that tradition and Obama’s place is useful in understanding what an Obama presidency would look like in foreign affairs.

The most striking thing about the Democratic tradition is that it presided over the beginnings of the three great conflicts that defined the 20th century: Woodrow Wilson and World War I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and World War II, and Harry S. Truman and the Cold War. (At this level of analysis, we will treat the episodes of the Cold War such as Korea, Vietnam or Grenada as simply subsets of one conflict.) This is most emphatically not to say that had Republicans won the presidency in 1916, 1940 or 1948, U.S. involvement in those wars could have been avoided.

Patterns in Democratic Foreign Policy

But it does give us a framework for considering persistent patterns of Democratic foreign policy. When we look at the conflicts, four things become apparent.

First, in all three conflicts, Democrats postponed the initiation of direct combat as long as possible. In only one, World War I, did Wilson decide to join the war without prior direct attack. Roosevelt maneuvered near war but did not enter the war until after Pearl Harbor. Truman also maneuvered near war but did not get into direct combat until after the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Indeed, even Wilson chose to go to war to protect free passage on the Atlantic. More important, he sought to prevent Germany from defeating the Russians and the Anglo-French alliance and to stop the subsequent German domination of Europe, which appeared possible. In other words, the Democratic approach to war was reactive. All three presidents reacted to events on the surface, while trying to shape them underneath the surface.

Second, all three wars were built around coalitions. The foundation of the three wars was that other nations were at risk and that the United States used a predisposition to resist (Germany in the first two wars, the Soviet Union in the last) as a framework for involvement. The United States under Democrats did not involve itself in war unilaterally. At the same time, the United States under Democrats made certain that the major burdens were shared by allies. Millions died in World War I, but the United States suffered 100,000 dead. In World War II, the United States suffered 500,000 dead in a war where perhaps 50 million soldiers and civilians died. In the Cold War, U.S. losses in direct combat were less than 100,000 while the losses to Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans and others towered over that toll. The allies had a complex appreciation of the United States. On the one hand, they were grateful for the U.S. presence. On the other hand, they resented the disproportionate amounts of blood and effort shed. Some of the roots of anti-Americanism are to be found in this strategy.

Third, each of these wars ended with a Democratic president attempting to create a system of international institutions designed to limit the recurrence of war without directly transferring sovereignty to those institutions. Wilson championed the League of Nations. Roosevelt the United Nations. Bill Clinton, who presided over most of the post-Cold War world, constantly sought international institutions to validate U.S. actions. Thus, when the United Nations refused to sanction the Kosovo War, he designated NATO as an alternative international organization with the right to approve conflict. Indeed, Clinton championed a range of multilateral organizations during the 1990s, including everything from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and later the World Trade Organization. All these presidents were deeply committed to multinational organizations to define permissible and impermissible actions.

And fourth, there is a focus on Europe in the Democratic view of the world. Roosevelt regarded Germany as the primary threat instead of the Pacific theater in World War II. And in spite of two land wars in Asia during the Cold War, the centerpiece of strategy remained NATO and Europe. The specific details have evolved over the last century, but the Democratic Party — and particularly the Democratic foreign policy establishment — historically has viewed Europe as a permanent interest and partner for the United States.

Thus, the main thrust of the Democratic tradition is deeply steeped in fighting wars, but approaches this task with four things in mind:

  1. Wars should not begin until the last possible moment and ideally should be initiated by the enemy.
  2. Wars must be fought in a coalition with much of the burden borne by partners.
  3. The outcome of wars should be an institutional legal framework to manage the peace, with the United States being the most influential force within this multilateral framework.
  4. Any such framework must be built on a trans-Atlantic relationship.

Democratic Party Fractures

That is one strand of Democratic foreign policy. A second strand emerged in the context of the Vietnam War. That war began under the Kennedy administration and was intensified by Lyndon Baines Johnson, particularly after 1964. The war did not go as expected. As the war progressed, the Democratic Party began to fragment. There were three factions involved in this.

The first faction consisted of foreign policy professionals and politicians who were involved in the early stages of war planning but turned against the war after 1967 when it clearly diverged from plans. The leading political figure of this faction was Robert F. Kennedy, who initially supported the war but eventually turned against it.

The second faction was more definitive. It consisted of people on the left wing of the Democratic Party — and many who went far to the left of the Democrats. This latter group not only turned against the war, it developed a theory of the U.S. role in the war that as a mass movement was unprecedented in the century. The view (it can only be sketched here) maintained that the United States was an inherently imperialist power. Rather than the benign image that Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman had of their actions, this faction reinterpreted American history going back into the 19th century as violent, racist and imperialist (in the most extreme faction’s view). Just as the United States annihilated the Native Americans, the United States was now annihilating the Vietnamese.

A third, more nuanced, faction argued that rather than an attempt to contain Soviet aggression, the Cold War was actually initiated by the United States out of irrational fear of the Soviets and out of imperialist ambitions. They saw the bombing of Hiroshima as a bid to intimidate the Soviet Union rather than an effort to end World War II, and the creation of NATO as having triggered the Cold War.

These three factions thus broke down into Democratic politicians such as RFK and George McGovern (who won the presidential nomination in 1972), radicals in the street who were not really Democrats, and revisionist scholars who for the most part were on the party’s left wing.

Ultimately, the Democratic Party split into two camps. Hubert Humphrey led the first along with Henry Jackson, who rejected the left’s interpretation of the U.S. role in Vietnam and claimed to speak for the Wilson-FDR-Truman strand in Democratic politics. McGovern led the second. His camp largely comprised the party’s left wing, which did not necessarily go as far as the most extreme critics of that tradition but was extremely suspicious of anti-communist ideology, the military and intelligence communities, and increased defense spending. The two camps conducted extended political warfare throughout the 1970s.

The presidency of Jimmy Carter symbolized the tensions. He came to power wanting to move beyond Vietnam, slashing and changing the CIA, controlling defense spending and warning the country of “an excessive fear of Communism.” But following the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he allowed Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security adviser and now an adviser to Obama, to launch a guerrilla war against the Soviets using Islamist insurgents from across the Muslim world in Afghanistan. Carter moved from concern with anti-Communism to coalition warfare against the Soviets by working with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghan resistance fighters.

Carter was dealing with the realities of U.S. geopolitics, but the tensions within the Democratic tradition shaped his responses. During the Clinton administration, these internal tensions subsided to a great degree. In large part this was because there was no major war, and the military action that did occur — as in Haiti and Kosovo — was framed as humanitarian actions rather than as the pursuit of national power. That soothed the anti-war Democrats to a great deal, since their perspective was less pacifistic than suspicious of using war to enhance national power.

The Democrats Since 9/11

Since the Democrats have not held the presidency during the last eight years, judging how they might have responded to events is speculative. Statements made while in opposition are not necessarily predictive of what an administration might do. Nevertheless, Obama’s foreign policy outlook was shaped by the last eight years of Democrats struggling with the U.S.-jihadist war.

The Democrats responded to events of the last eight years as they traditionally do when the United States is attacked directly: The party’s anti-war faction contracted and the old Democratic tradition reasserted itself. This was particularly true of the decision to go to war in Afghanistan. Obviously, the war was a response to an attack and, given the mood of the country after 9/11, was an unassailable decision. But it had another set of characteristics that made it attractive to the Democrats. The military action in Afghanistan was taking place in the context of broad international support and within a coalition forming at all levels, from on the ground in Afghanistan to NATO and the United Nations. Second, U.S. motives did not appear to involve national self-interest, like increasing power or getting oil. It was not a war for national advantage, but a war of national self-defense.

The Democrats were much less comfortable with the Iraq war than they were with Afghanistan. The old splits reappeared, with many Democrats voting for the invasion and others against. There were complex and mixed reasons why each Democrat voted the way they did — some strategic, some purely political, some moral. Under the pressure of voting on the war, the historically fragile Democratic consensus broke apart, not so much in conflict as in disarray. One of the most important reasons for this was the sense of isolation from major European powers — particularly the French and Germans, whom the Democrats regarded as fundamental elements of any coalition. Without those countries, the Democrats regarded the United States as diplomatically isolated.

The intraparty conflict came later. As the war went badly, the anti-war movement in the party re-energized itself. They were joined later by many who had formerly voted for the war but were upset by the human and material cost and by the apparent isolation of the United States and so on. Both factions of the Democratic Party had reasons to oppose the Iraq war even while they supported the Afghan war.

Understanding Obama’s Foreign Policy

It is in light of this distinction that we can begin to understand Obama’s foreign policy. On Aug. 1, Obama said the following: “It is time to turn the page. When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.”

Obama’s view of the Iraq war is that it should not have been fought in the first place, and that the current success in the war does not justify it or its cost. In this part, he speaks to the anti-war tradition in the party. He adds that Afghanistan and Pakistan are the correct battlefields, since this is where the attack emanated from. It should be noted that on several occasions Obama has pointed to Pakistan as part of the Afghan problem, and has indicated a willingness to intervene there if needed while demanding Pakistani cooperation. Moreover, Obama emphasizes the need for partnerships — for example, coalition partners — rather than unilateral action in Afghanistan and globally.

Responding to attack rather than pre-emptive attack, coalition warfare and multinational postwar solutions are central to Obama’s policy in the Islamic world. He therefore straddles the divide within the Democratic Party. He opposes the war in Iraq as pre-emptive, unilateral and outside the bounds of international organizations while endorsing the Afghan war and promising to expand it.

Obama’s problem would be applying these principles to the emerging landscape. He shaped his foreign policy preferences when the essential choices remained within the Islamic world — between dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously versus focusing on Afghanistan primarily. After the Russian invasion of Georgia, Obama would face a more complex set of choices between the Islamic world and dealing with the Russian challenge.

Obama’s position on Georgia tracked with traditional Democratic approaches:

“Georgia’s economic recovery is an urgent strategic priority that demands the focused attention of the United States and our allies. That is why Senator Biden and I have called for $1 billion in reconstruction assistance to help the people of Georgia in this time of great trial. I also welcome NATO’s decision to establish a NATO-Georgia Commission and applaud the new French and German initiatives to continue work on these issues within the EU. The Bush administration should call for a U.S.-EU-Georgia summit in September that focuses on strategies for preserving Georgia’s territorial integrity and advancing its economic recovery.”

Obama avoided militaristic rhetoric and focused on multinational approaches to dealing with the problem, particularly via NATO and the European Union. In this and in Afghanistan, he has returned to a Democratic fundamental: the centrality of the U.S.-European relationship. In this sense, it is not accidental that he took a preconvention trip to Europe. It was both natural and a signal to the Democratic foreign policy establishment that he understands the pivotal position of Europe.

This view on multilateralism and NATO is summed up in a critical statement by Obama in a position paper:

“Today it’s become fashionable to disparage the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations. In fact, reform of these bodies is urgently needed if they are to keep pace with the fast-moving threats we face. Such real reform will not come, however, by dismissing the value of these institutions, or by bullying other countries to ratify changes we have drafted in isolation. Real reform will come because we convince others that they too have a stake in change — that such reforms will make their world, and not just ours, more secure.

“Our alliances also require constant management and revision if they are to remain effective and relevant. For example, over the last 15 years, NATO has made tremendous strides in transforming from a Cold War security structure to a dynamic partnership for peace.

“Today, NATO’s challenge in Afghanistan has become a test case, in the words of Dick Lugar, of whether the alliance can ‘overcome the growing discrepancy between NATO’s expanding missions and its lagging capabilities.’”

Obama’s European Problem

The last paragraph represents the key challenge to Obama’s foreign policy, and where his first challenge would come from. Obama wants a coalition with Europe and wants Europe to strengthen itself. But Europe is deeply divided, and averse to increasing its defense spending or substantially increasing its military participation in coalition warfare. Obama’s multilateralism and Europeanism will quickly encounter the realities of Europe.

This would immediately affect his jihadist policy. At this point, Obama’s plan for a 16-month drawdown from Iraq is quite moderate, and the idea of focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan is a continuation of Bush administration policy. But his challenge would be to increase NATO involvement. There is neither the will nor the capability to substantially increase Europe’s NATO participation in Afghanistan.

This problem would be even more difficult in dealing with Russia. Europe has no objection in principle to the Afghan war; it merely lacks the resources to substantially increase its presence there. But in the case of Russia, there is no European consensus. The Germans are dependent on the Russians for energy and do not want to risk that relationship; the French are more vocal but lack military capability, though they have made efforts to increase their commitment to Afghanistan. Obama says he wants to rely on multilateral agencies to address the Russian situation. That is possible diplomatically, but if the Russians press the issue further, as we expect, a stronger response will be needed. NATO will be unlikely to provide that response.

Obama would therefore face the problem of shifting the focus to Afghanistan and the added problem of balancing between an Islamic focus and a Russian focus. This will be a general problem of U.S. diplomacy. But Obama as a Democrat would have a more complex problem. Averse to unilateral actions and focused on Europe, Obama would face his first crisis in dealing with the limited support Europe can provide.

That will pose serious problems in both Afghanistan and Russia, which Obama would have to deal with. There is a hint in his thoughts on this when he says, “And as we strengthen NATO, we should also seek to build new alliances and relationships in other regions important to our interests in the 21st century.” The test would be whether these new coalitions will differ from, and be more effective than, the coalition of the willing.

Obama would face similar issues in dealing with the Iranians. His approach is to create a coalition to confront the Iranians and force them to abandon their nuclear program. He has been clear that he opposes that program, although less clear on other aspects of Iranian foreign policy. But again, his solution is to use a coalition to control Iran. That coalition disintegrated to a large extent after Russia and China both indicated that they had no interest in sanctions.

But the coalition Obama plans to rely on will have to be dramatically revived by unknown means, or an alternative coalition must be created, or the United States will have to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan unilaterally. This reality places a tremendous strain on the core principles of Democratic foreign policy. To reconcile the tensions, he would have to rapidly come to an understanding with the Europeans in NATO on expanding their military forces. Since reaching out to the Europeans would be among his first steps, his first test would come early.

The Europeans would probably balk, and, if not, they would demand that the United States expand its defense spending as well. Obama has shown no inclination toward doing this. In October 2007, he said the following on defense: “I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems, and I will institute an independent defense priorities board to ensure that the quadrennial defense review is not used to justify unnecessary spending.”

Russia, Afghanistan and Defense Spending

In this, Obama is reaching toward the anti-war faction in his party, which regards military expenditures with distrust. He focused on advanced war-fighting systems, but did not propose cutting spending on counterinsurgency. But the dilemma is that in dealing with both insurgency and the Russians, Obama would come under pressure to do what he doesn’t want to do — namely, increase U.S. defense spending on advanced systems.

Obama has been portrayed as radical. That is far from the case. He is well within a century-long tradition of the Democratic Party, with an element of loyalty to the anti-war faction. But that element is an undertone to his policy, not its core. The core of his policy would be coalition building and a focus on European allies, as well as the use of multilateral institutions and the avoidance of pre-emptive war. There is nothing radical or even new in these principles. His discomfort with military spending is the only thing that might link him to the party’s left wing.

The problem he would face is the shifting international landscape, which would make it difficult to implement some of his policies. First, the tremendous diversity of international challenges would make holding the defense budget in check difficult. Second, and more important, is the difficulty of coalition building and multilateral action with the Europeans. Obama thus lacks both the force and the coalition to carry out his missions. He therefore would have no choice but to deal with the Russians while confronting the Afghan/Pakistani question even if he withdrew more quickly than he says he would from Iraq.

The make-or-break moment for Obama will come early, when he confronts the Europeans. If he can persuade them to take concerted action, including increased defense spending, then much of his foreign policy rapidly falls into place, even if it is at the price of increasing U.S. defense spending. If the Europeans cannot come together (or be brought together) decisively, however, then he will have to improvise.

Obama would be the first Democrat in this century to take office inheriting a major war. Inheriting an ongoing war is perhaps the most difficult thing for a president to deal with. Its realities are already fixed and the penalties for defeat or compromise already defined. The war in Afghanistan has already been defined by U.S. President George W. Bush’s approach. Rewriting it will be enormously difficult, particularly when rewriting it depends on ending unilateralism and moving toward full coalition warfare when coalition partners are wary.

Obama’s problems are compounded by the fact that he does not only have to deal with an inherited war, but also a resurgent Russia. And he wants to depend on the same coalition for both. That will be enormously challenging for him, testing his diplomatic skills as well as geopolitical realities. As with all presidents, what he plans to do and what he would do are two different things. But it seems to us that his presidency would be defined by whether he can change the course of U.S.-European relations not by accepting European terms but by persuading them to accommodate U.S. interests.

An Obama presidency would not turn on this. There is no evidence that he lacks the ability to shift with reality — that he lacks Machiavellian virtue. But it still will be the first and critical test, one handed to him by the complex tensions of Democratic traditions and by a war he did not start.

Want to watch the debate with a prepared mind? This introductory piece frames the questions that the next president will face. Regardless of a given candidate’s policy preferences, there are logistical and geographical constraints that shape US and foreign options. The purpose of this analysis is to describe the geopolitical landscape for the next administration. The analysis concludes with a list of questions for the debate that define the parameters facing both candidates.

By George Friedman

It has often been said that presidential elections are all about the economy. That just isn’t true. Harry Truman’s second election was all about Korea. John Kennedy’s election focused on missiles, Cuba and Berlin. Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s elections were heavily about Vietnam. Ronald Reagan’s first election pivoted on Iran. George W. Bush’s second election was about Iraq. We won’t argue that presidential elections are all about foreign policy, but they are not all about the economy. The 2008 election will certainly contain a massive component of foreign policy.

We have no wish to advise you how to vote. That’s your decision. What we want to do is try to describe what the world will look like to the new president and consider how each candidate is likely to respond to the world. In trying to consider whether to vote for John McCain or Barack Obama, it is obviously necessary to consider their stands on foreign policy issues. But we have to be cautious about campaign assertions. Kennedy claimed that the Soviets had achieved superiority in missiles over the United States, knowing full well that there was no missile gap. Johnson attacked Barry Goldwater for wanting to escalate the war in Vietnam at the same time he was planning an escalation. Nixon won the 1968 presidential election by claiming that he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. What a candidate says is not always an indicator of what the candidate is thinking.

It gets even trickier when you consider that many of the most important foreign policy issues are not even imagined during the election campaign. Truman did not expect that his second term would be dominated by a war in Korea. Kennedy did not expect to be remembered for the Cuban missile crisis. Jimmy Carter never imagined in 1976 that his presidency would be wrecked by the fall of the Shah of Iran and the hostage crisis. George H. W. Bush didn’t expect to be presiding over the collapse of communism or a war over Kuwait. George W. Bush (regardless of conspiracy theories) never expected his entire presidency to be defined by 9/11. If you read all of these presidents’ position papers in detail, you would never get a hint as to what the really important foreign policy issues would be in their presidencies.

Between the unreliability of campaign promises and the unexpected in foreign affairs, predicting what presidents will do is a complex business. The decisions a president must make once in office are neither scripted nor conveniently timed. They frequently present themselves to the president and require decisions in hours that can permanently define his (or her) administration. Ultimately, voters must judge, by whatever means they might choose, whether the candidate has the virtue needed to make those decisions well.

Virtue, as we are using it here, is a term that comes from Machiavelli. It means the opposite of its conventional usage. A virtuous leader is one who is clever, cunning, decisive, ruthless and, above all, effective. Virtue is the ability to face the unexpected and make the right decision, without position papers, time to reflect or even enough information. The virtuous leader can do that. Others cannot. It is a gut call for a voter, and a tough one.

This does not mean that all we can do is guess about a candidate’s nature. There are three things we can draw on. First, there is the political tradition the candidate comes from. There are more things connecting Republican and Democratic foreign policy than some would like to think, but there are also clear differences. Since each candidate comes from a different political tradition — as do his advisers — these traditions can point to how each candidate might react to events in the world. Second, there are indications in the positions the candidates take on ongoing events that everyone knows about, such as Iraq. Having pointed out times in which candidates have been deceptive, we still believe there is value in looking at their positions and seeing whether they are coherent and relevant. Finally, we can look at the future and try to predict what the world will look like over the next four years. In other words, we can try to limit the surprises as much as possible.

In order to try to draw this presidential campaign into some degree of focus on foreign policy, we will proceed in three steps. First, we will try to outline the foreign policy issues that we think will confront the new president, with the understanding that history might well throw in a surprise. Second, we will sketch the traditions and positions of both Obama and McCain to try to predict how they would respond to these events. Finally, after the foreign policy debate is over, we will try to analyze what they actually said within the framework we created.

Let me emphasize that this is not a partisan exercise. The best guarantee of objectivity is that there are members of our staff who are passionately (we might even say irrationally) committed to each of the candidates. They will be standing by to crush any perceived unfairness. It is Stratfor’s core belief that it is possible to write about foreign policy, and even an election, without becoming partisan or polemical. It is a difficult task and we doubt we can satisfy everyone, but it is our goal and commitment.

The Post 9/11 World

Ever since 9/11 U.S. foreign policy has focused on the Islamic world. Starting in late 2002, the focus narrowed to Iraq. When the 2008 campaign for president began a year ago, it appeared Iraq would define the election almost to the exclusion of all other matters. Clearly, this is no longer the case, pointing to the dynamism of foreign affairs and opening the door to a range of other issues.

Iraq remains an issue, but it interacts with a range of other issues. Among these are the future of U.S.-Iranian relations; U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan and the availability of troops in Iraq for that mission; the future of U.S.-Pakistani relations and their impact on Afghanistan; the future of U.S.-Russian relations and the extent to which they will interfere in the region; resources available to contain Russian expansion; the future of the U.S. relationship with the Europeans and with NATO in the context of growing Russian power and the war in Afghanistan; Israel’s role, caught as it is between Russia and Iran; and a host of only marginally related issues. Iraq may be subsiding, but that simply complicates the world facing the new president.

The list of problems facing the new president will be substantially larger than the problems facing George W. Bush, in breadth if not in intensity. The resources he will have to work with, military, political and economic, will not be larger for the first year at least. In terms of military capacity, much will hang on the degree to which Iraq continues to bog down more than a dozen U.S. brigade combat teams. Even thereafter, the core problem facing the next president will be the allocation of limited resources to an expanding number of challenges. The days when it was all about Iraq is over. It is now all about how to make the rubber band stretch without breaking.

Iraq remains the place to begin, however, since the shifts there help define the world the new president will face. To understand the international landscape the new president will face, it is essential to begin by understanding what happened in Iraq, and why Iraq is no longer the defining issue of this campaign.

A Stabilized Iraq and the U.S. Troop Dilemma

In 2006, it appeared that the situation in Iraq was both out of control and hopeless. Sunni insurgents were waging war against the United States, Shiite militias were taking shots at the Americans as well, and Sunnis and Shia were waging a war against each other. There seemed to be no way to bring the war to anything resembling a satisfactory solution.

When the Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 elections, it appeared inevitable that the United States would begin withdrawing forces from Iraq. U.S expectations aside, this was the expectation by all parties in Iraq. Given that the United States was not expected to remain a decisive force in Iraq, all Iraqi parties discounted the Americans and maneuvered for position in anticipation of a post-American Iraq. The Iranians in particular saw an opportunity to limit a Sunni return to Iraq’s security forces, thus reshaping the geopolitics of the region. U.S. fighting with Iraqi Sunnis intensified in preparation for the anticipated American withdrawal.

Bush’s decision to increase forces rather than withdraw them dramatically changed the psychology of Iraq. It was assumed he had lost control of the situation. Bush’s decision to surge forces in Iraq, regardless by how many troops, established two things. First, Bush remained in control of U.S. policy. Second, the assumption that the Americans were leaving was untrue. And suddenly, no one was certain that there would be a vacuum to be filled.

The deployment of forces proved helpful, as did the change in how the troops were used; recent leaks indicate that new weapon systems also played a key role. The most important factor, however, was the realization that the Americans were not leaving on Bush’s watch. Since no one was sure who the next U.S. president would be, or what his policies might be, it was thus uncertain that the Americans would leave at all.

Everyone in Iraq suddenly recalculated. If the Americans weren’t leaving, one option would be to make a deal with Bush, seen as weak and looking for historical validation. Alternatively, they could wait for Bush’s successor. Iran remembers — without fondness — its decision not to seal a deal…, instead preferring to wait for Reagan. Similarly, seeing foreign jihadists encroaching in Sunni regions and the Shia shaping the government in Baghdad, the Sunni insurgents began a fundamental reconsideration of their strategy.

Apart from reversing Iraq’s expectations about the United States, part of Washington’s general strategy was supplementing military operations with previously unthinkable political negotiations. First, the United States began talking to Iraq’s Sunni nationalist insurgents, and found common ground with them. Neither the Sunni nationalists nor the United States liked the jihadists, and both wanted the Shia to form a coalition government. Second, back-channel U.S.-Iranian talks clearly took place. The Iranians realized that the possibility of a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad was evaporating. Iran’s greatest fear was a Sunni Iraqi government armed and backed …, recreating a version of the Hussein regime that had waged war with Iran for almost a decade. The Iranians decided that a neutral, coalition government was the best they could achieve, so they reined in the Shiite militia.

The net result of this was that the jihadists were marginalized and broken, and an uneasy coalition government was created in Baghdad, balanced between Iran and the United States. The Americans failed to create a pro-American government in Baghdad, but had blocked the emergence of a pro-Iranian government. Iraqi society remained fragmented and fragile, but a degree of peace unthinkable in 2006 had been created.

The first problem facing the next U.S. president will be deciding when and how many U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq. Unlike 2006, this issue will not be framed by Iraq alone. First, there will be the urgency of increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Second, there will be the need to create a substantial strategic reserve to deal with potential requirements in Pakistan, and just as important, responding to events in the former Soviet Union like the recent conflict in Georgia.

At the same time, too precipitous a U.S. withdrawal not only could destabilize the situation internally in Iraq, it could convince Iran that its dream of a pro-Iranian Iraq is not out of the question. In short, too rapid a withdrawal could lead to resumption of war in Iraq. But too slow a withdrawal could make the situation in Afghanistan untenable and open the door for other crises.

The foreign policy test for the next U.S. president will be calibrating three urgent requirements with a military force that is exhausted by five years of warfare in Iraq and seven in Afghanistan. This force was not significantly expanded since Sept. 11, making this the first global war the United States has ever fought without a substantial military expansion. Nothing the new president does will change this reality for several years, so he will be forced immediately into juggling insufficient forces without the option of precipitous withdrawal from Iraq unless he is prepared to accept the consequences, particularly of a more powerful Iran.

The Nuclear Chip and a Stable U.S.-Iranian Understanding

The nuclear issue has divided the United States and Iran for several years. The issue seems to come and go depending on events elsewhere. Thus, what was enormously urgent just prior to the Russo-Georgian war became much less pressing during and after it. This is not unreasonable in our point of view, because we regard Iran as much farther from nuclear weapons than others might, and we suspect that the Bush administration agrees given its recent indifference to the question.

Certainly, Iran is enriching uranium, and with that uranium, it could possibly explode a nuclear device. But the gap between a nuclear device and weapon is substantial, and all the enriched uranium in the world will not give the Iranians a weapon. To have a weapon, it must be ruggedized and miniaturized to fit on a rocket or to be carried on an attack aircraft. The technologies needed for that range from material science to advanced electronics to quality assurance. Creating a weapon is a huge project. In our view, Iran does not have the depth of integrated technical skills needed to achieve that goal.

As for North Korea, for Iran a very public nuclear program is a bargaining chip designed to extract concessions, particularly from the Americans. The Iranians have continued the program very publicly in spite of threats of Israeli and American attacks because it made the United States less likely to dismiss Iranian wishes in Tehran’s true area of strategic interest, Iraq.

The United States must draw down its forces in Iraq to fight in Afghanistan. The Iranians have no liking for the Taliban, having nearly gone to war with them in 1998, and having aided the United States in Afghanistan in 2001. The United States needs Iran’s commitment to a neutral Iraq to withdraw U.S. forces since Iran could destabilize Iraq overnight, though Tehran’s ability to spin up Shiite proxies in Iraq has declined over the past year.

Therefore, the next president very quickly will face the question of how to deal with Iran. The Bush administration solution — relying on quiet understandings alongside public hostility — is one model. It is not necessarily a bad one, so long as forces remain in Iraq to control the situation. If the first decision the new U.S. president will have to make is how to transfer forces in Iraq elsewhere, the second decision will be how to achieve a more stable understanding with Iran.

This is particularly pressing in the context of a more assertive Russia that might reach out to Iran. The United States will need Iran more than Iran needs the United States under these circumstances. Washington will need Iran to abstain from action in Iraq but to act in Afghanistan. More significantly, the United States will need Iran not to enter into an understanding with Russia. The next president will have to figure out how to achieve all these things without giving away more than he needs to, and without losing his domestic political base in the process.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban

The U.S. president also will have to come up with an Afghan policy, which really doesn’t exist at this moment. The United States and its NATO allies have deployed about 50,000 troops in Afghanistan. To benchmark this, the Russians deployed around 120,000 by the mid-1980s, and were unable to pacify the country. Therefore the possibility of 60,000 troops — or even a few additional brigades on top of that — pacifying Afghanistan is minimal. The primary task of troops in Afghanistan now is to defend the Kabul regime and other major cities, and to try to keep the major roads open. More troops will make this easier, but by itself, it will not end the war.

The problem in Afghanistan is twofold. First, the Taliban defeated their rivals in Afghanistan during the civil war of the 1990s because they were the most cohesive force in the country, were politically adept and enjoyed Pakistani support. The Taliban’s victory was not accidental; and all other things being equal, without the U.S. presence, they could win again. The United States never defeated the Taliban. Instead, the Taliban refused to engage in massed warfare against American airpower, retreated, dispersed and regrouped. In most senses, it is the same force that won the Afghan civil war.

The United States can probably block the Taliban from taking the cities, but to do more it must do three things. First, it must deny the Taliban sanctuary and lines of supply running from Pakistan. These two elements allowed the mujahideen to outlast the Soviets. They helped bring the Taliban to power. And they are fueling the Taliban today. Second, the United States must form effective coalitions with tribal groups hostile to the Taliban. To do this it needs the help of Iran, and more important, Washington must convince the tribes that it will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely — not an easy task. And third — the hardest task for the new president — the United States will have to engage the Taliban themselves, or at least important factions in the Taliban movement, in a political process. When we recall that the United States negotiated with the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, this is not as far-fetched as it appears.

The most challenging aspect to deal with in all this is Pakistan. The United States has two issues in the South Asian country. The first is the presence of al Qaeda in northern Pakistan. Al Qaeda has not carried out a successful operation in the United States since 2001, nor in Europe since 2005. Groups who use the al Qaeda label continue to operate in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they use the name to legitimize or celebrate their activities — they are not the same people who carried out 9/11. Most of al Qaeda prime’s operatives are dead or scattered, and its main leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are not functional. The United States would love to capture bin Laden so as to close the books on al Qaeda, but the level of effort needed — assuming he is even alive — might outstrip U.S. capabilities.

The most difficult step politically for the new U.S. president will be to close the book on al Qaeda. This does not mean that a new group of operatives won’t grow from the same soil, and it doesn’t mean that Islamist terrorism is dead by any means. But it does mean that the particular entity the United States has been pursuing has effectively been destroyed, and the parts regenerating under its name are not as dangerous. Asserting victory will be extremely difficult for the new U.S. president. But without that step, a massive friction point between the United States and Pakistan will persist — one that isn’t justified geopolitically and undermines a much more pressing goal.

The United States needs the Pakistani army to attack the Taliban in Pakistan, or failing that, permit the United States to attack them without hindrance from the Pakistani military. Either of these are nightmarishly difficult things for a Pakistani government to agree to, and harder still to carry out. Nevertheless, without cutting the line of supply to Pakistan, like Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Afghanistan cannot be pacified. Therefore, the new president will face the daunting task of persuading or coercing the Pakistanis to carry out an action that will massively destabilize their country without allowing the United States to get bogged down in a Pakistan it cannot hope to stabilize.

At the same time, the United States must begin the political process of creating some sort of coalition in Afghanistan that it can live with. The fact of the matter is that the United States has no long-term interest in Afghanistan except in ensuring that radical jihadists with global operational reach are not given sanctuary there. Getting an agreement to that effect will be hard. Guaranteeing compliance will be virtually impossible. Nevertheless, that is the task the next president must undertake.

There are too many moving parts in Afghanistan to be sanguine about the outcome. It is a much more complex situation than Iraq, if for no other reason than because the Taliban are a far more effective fighting force than anything the United States encountered in Iraq, the terrain far more unfavorable for the U.S. military, and the political actors much more cynical about American capabilities.

The next U.S. president will have to make a painful decision. He must either order a long-term holding action designed to protect the Karzai government, launch a major offensive that includes Pakistan but has insufficient forces, or withdraw. Geopolitically, withdrawal makes a great deal of sense. Psychologically, it could unhinge the region and regenerate al Qaeda-like forces. Politically, it would not be something a new president could do. But as he ponders Iraq, the future president will have to address Afghanistan. And as he ponders Afghanistan, he will have to think about the Russians.

The Russian Resurgence

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Russians were allied with the United States. They facilitated the U.S. relationship with the Northern Alliance, and arranged for air bases in Central Asia. The American view of Russia was formed in the 1990s. It was seen as disintegrating, weak and ultimately insignificant to the global balance. The United States expanded NATO into the former Soviet Union in the Baltic states and said it wanted to expand it into Ukraine and Georgia. The Russians made it clear that they regarded this as a direct threat to their national security, resulting in the 2008 Georgian conflict.

The question now is where U.S.-Russian relations are going. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union a geopolitical catastrophe. After Ukraine and Georgia, it is clear he does not trust the United States and that he intends to reassert his sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. Georgia was lesson one. The current political crisis in Ukraine is the second lesson unfolding.

The re-emergence of a Russian empire in some form or another represents a far greater threat to the United States than the Islamic world. The Islamic world is divided and in chaos. It cannot coalesce into the caliphate that al Qaeda wanted to create by triggering a wave of revolutions in the Islamic world. Islamic terrorism remains a threat, but the geopolitical threat of a unifying Islamic power is not going to happen.

Russia is a different matter. The Soviet Union and the Russian empire both posed strategic threats because they could threaten Europe, the Middle East and China simultaneously. While this overstates the threat, it does provide some context. A united Eurasia is always powerful, and threatens to dominate the Eastern Hemisphere. Therefore, preventing Russia from reasserting its power in the former Soviet Union should take precedence over all other considerations.

The problem is that the United States and NATO together presently do not have the force needed to stop the Russians. The Russian army is not particularly powerful or effective, but it is facing forces that are far less powerful and effective. The United States has its forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan so that when the war in Georgia broke out, sending ground forces was simply not an option. The Russians are extremely aware of this window of opportunity, and are clearly taking advantage of it.

The Russians have two main advantages in this aside from American resource deficits. First, the Europeans are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas; German energy dependence on Moscow is particularly acute. The Europeans are in no military or economic position to take any steps against the Russians, as the resulting disruption would be disastrous. Second, as the United States maneuvers with Iran, the Russians can provide support to Iran, politically and in terms of military technology, that not only would challenge the United States, it might embolden the Iranians to try for a better deal in Iraq by destabilizing Iraq again. Finally, the Russians can pose lesser challenges in the Caribbean with Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, as well as potentially supporting Middle Eastern terrorist groups and left-wing Latin American groups.

At this moment, the Russians have far more options than the Americans have. Therefore, the new U.S. president will have to design a policy for dealing with the Russians with few options at hand. This is where his decisions on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan will intersect and compete with his decisions on Russia. Ideally, the United States would put forces in the Baltics — which are part of NATO — as well as in Ukraine and Georgia. But that is not an option and won’t be for more than a year under the best of circumstances.

The United States therefore must attempt a diplomatic solution with Russia with very few sticks. The new president will need to try to devise a package of carrots — e.g., economic incentives — plus the long-term threat of a confrontation with the United States to persuade Moscow not to use its window of opportunity to reassert Russian regional hegemony. Since regional hegemony allows Russia to control its own destiny, the carrots will have to be very tempting, while the threat has to be particularly daunting. The president’s task will be crafting the package and then convincing the Russians it has value.

European Disunity and Military Weakness

One of the problems the United States will face in these negotiations will be the Europeans. There is no such thing as a European foreign policy; there are only the foreign policies of the separate countries. The Germans, for example, do not want a confrontation with Russia under any circumstances. The United Kingdom, by contrast, is more willing to take a confrontational approach to Moscow. And the European military capability, massed and focused, is meager. The Europeans have badly neglected their military over the past 15 years. What deployable, expeditionary forces they have are committed to the campaign in Afghanistan. That means that in dealing with Russia, the Americans do not have united European support and certainly no meaningful military weight. This will make any diplomacy with the Russians extremely difficult.

One of the issues the new president eventually will have to face is the value of NATO and the Europeans as a whole. This was an academic matter while the Russians were prostrate. With the Russians becoming active, it will become an urgent issue. NATO expansion — and NATO itself — has lived in a world in which it faced no military threats. Therefore, it did not have to look at itself militarily. After Georgia, NATO’s military power becomes very important, and without European commitment, NATO’s military power independent of the United States — and the ability to deploy it — becomes minimal. If Germany opts out of confrontation, then NATO will be paralyzed legally, since it requires consensus, and geographically. For the United States alone cannot protect the Baltics without German participation.

The president really will have one choice affecting Europe: Accept the resurgence of Russia, or resist. If the president resists, he will have to limit his commitment to the Islamic world severely, rebalance the size and shape of the U.S. military and revitalize and galvanize NATO. If he cannot do all of those things, he will face some stark choices in Europe.

Israel, Turkey, China, and Latin America

Russian pressure is already reshaping aspects of the global system. The Israelis have approached Georgia very differently from the United States. They halted weapon sales to Georgia the week before the war, and have made it clear to Moscow that Israel does not intend to challenge Russia. The Russians met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad immediately after the war. This signaled the Israelis that Moscow was prepared to support Syria with weapons and with Russian naval ships in the port of Tartus if Israel supports Georgia, and other countries in the former Soviet Union, we assume. The Israelis appear to have let the Russians know that they would not do so, separating themselves from the U.S. position. The next president will have to re-examine the U.S. relationship with Israel if this breach continues to widen.

In the same way, the United States will have to address its relationship with Turkey. A long-term ally, Turkey has participated logistically in the Iraq occupation, but has not been enthusiastic. Turkey’s economy is booming, its military is substantial and Turkish regional influence is growing. Turkey is extremely wary of being caught in a new Cold War between Russia and the United States, but this will be difficult to avoid. Turkey’s interests are very threatened by a Russian resurgence, and Turkey is the U.S. ally with the most tools for countering Russia. Both sides will pressure Ankara mercilessly. More than Israel, Turkey will be critical both in the Islamic world and with the Russians. The new president will have to address U.S.-Turkish relations both in context and independent of Russia fairly quickly.

In some ways, China is the great beneficiary of all of this. In the early days of the Bush administration, there were some confrontations with China. As the war in Iraq calmed down, Washington seemed to be increasing its criticisms of China, perhaps even tacitly supporting Tibetan independence. With the re-emergence of Russia, the United States is now completely distracted. Contrary to perceptions, China is not a global military power. Its army is primarily locked in by geography and its navy is in no way an effective blue-water force. For its part, the United States is in no position to land troops on mainland China. Therefore, there is no U.S. geopolitical competition with China. The next president will have to deal with economic issues with China, but in the end, China will sell goods to the United States, and the United States will buy them.

Latin America has been a region of minimal interest to the United States in the last decade or longer. So long as no global power was using its territory, the United States did not care what presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua — or even the Castros in Cuba — were doing. But with the Russians back in the Caribbean, at least symbolically, all of these countries suddenly become more important. At the moment, the United States has no Latin American policy worth noting; the new president will have to develop one.

Quite apart from the Russians, the future U.S. president will need to address Mexico. The security situation in Mexico is deteriorating substantially, and the U.S.-Mexican border remains porous. The cartels stretch from Mexico to the streets of American cities where their customers live. What happens in Mexico, apart from immigration issues, is obviously of interest to the United States. If the current trajectory continues, at some point in his administration, the new U.S. president will have to address Mexico — potentially in terms never before considered.

The U.S. Defense Budget

The single issue touching on all of these is the U.S. defense budget. The focus of defense spending over the past eight years has been the Army and Marine Corps — albeit with great reluctance. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not an advocate of a heavy Army, favoring light forces and air power, but reality forced his successors to reallocate resources. In spite of this, the size of the Army remained the same — and insufficient for the broader challenges emerging.

The focus of defense spending was Fourth Generation warfare, essentially counterinsurgency. It became dogma in the military that we would not see peer-to-peer warfare for a long time. The re-emergence of Russia, however, obviously raises the specter of peer-to-peer warfare, which in turn means money for the Air Force as well as naval rearmament. All of these programs will take a decade or more to implement, so if Russia is to be a full-blown challenge by 2020, spending must begin now.

If we assume that the United States will not simply pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but will also commit troops to allies on Russia’s periphery while retaining a strategic reserve — able to, for example, protect the U.S.-Mexican border — then we are assuming substantially increased spending on ground forces. But that will not be enough. The budgets for the Air Force and Navy will also have to begin rising.

U.S. national strategy is expressed in the defense budget. Every strategic decision the president makes has to be expressed in budget dollars with congressional approval. Without that, all of this is theoretical. The next president will have to start drafting his first defense budget shortly after taking office. If he chooses to engage all of the challenges, he must be prepared to increase defense spending. If he is not prepared to do that, he must concede that some areas of the world are beyond management. And he will have to decide which areas these are. In light of the foregoing, as we head toward the debate, 10 questions should be asked of the candidates:

  1. If the United States removes its forces from Iraq slowly as both of you advocate, where will the troops come from to deal with Afghanistan and protect allies in the former Soviet Union?
  2. The Russians sent 120,000 troops to Afghanistan and failed to pacify the country. How many troops do you think are necessary?
  3. Do you believe al Qaeda prime is still active and worth pursuing?
  4. Do you believe the Iranians are capable of producing a deliverable nuclear weapon during your term in office?
  5. How do you plan to persuade the Pakistani government to go after the Taliban, and what support can you provide them if they do?
  6. Do you believe the United States should station troops in the Baltic states, in Ukraine and Georgia as well as in other friendly countries to protect them from Russia?
  7. Do you feel that NATO remains a viable alliance, and are the Europeans carrying enough of the burden?
  8. Do you believe that Mexico represents a national security issue for the United States?
  9. Do you believe that China represents a strategic challenge to the United States?
  10. Do you feel that there has been tension between the United States and Israel over the Georgia issue?

By George Friedman – Honorary Political Season Contributor

The Russo-Georgian war was rooted in broad geopolitical processes. In large part it was simply the result of the cyclical reassertion of Russian power. The Russian empire — czarist and Soviet — expanded to its borders in the 17th and 19th centuries. It collapsed in 1992. The Western powers wanted to make the disintegration permanent. It was inevitable that Russia would, in due course, want to reassert its claims. That it happened in Georgia was simply the result of circumstance.

There is, however, another context within which to view this, the context of Russian perceptions of U.S. and European intentions and of U.S. and European perceptions of Russian capabilities. This context shaped the policies that led to the Russo-Georgian war. And those attitudes can only be understood if we trace the question of Kosovo, because the Russo-Georgian war was forged over the last decade over the Kosovo question.

Yugoslavia broke up into its component republics in the early 1990s. The borders of the republics did not cohere to the distribution of nationalities. Many — Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and so on — found themselves citizens of republics where the majorities were not of their ethnicities and disliked the minorities intensely for historical reasons. Wars were fought between Croatia and Serbia (still calling itself Yugoslavia because Montenegro was part of it), Bosnia and Serbia and Bosnia and Croatia. Other countries in the region became involved as well.

One conflict became particularly brutal. Bosnia had a large area dominated by Serbs. This region wanted to secede from Bosnia and rejoin Serbia. The Bosnians objected and an internal war in Bosnia took place, with the Serbian government involved. This war involved the single greatest bloodletting of the bloody Balkan wars, the mass murder by Serbs of Bosnians.

Here we must pause and define some terms that are very casually thrown around. Genocide is the crime of trying to annihilate an entire people. War crimes are actions that violate the rules of war. If a soldier shoots a prisoner, he has committed a war crime. Then there is a class called “crimes against humanity.” It is intended to denote those crimes that are too vast to be included in normal charges of murder or rape. They may not involve genocide, in that the annihilation of a race or nation is not at stake, but they may also go well beyond war crimes, which are much lesser offenses. The events in Bosnia were reasonably deemed crimes against humanity. They did not constitute genocide and they were more than war crimes.

At the time, the Americans and Europeans did nothing about these crimes, which became an internal political issue as the magnitude of the Serbian crimes became clear. In this context, the Clinton administration helped negotiate the Dayton Accords, which were intended to end the Balkan wars and indeed managed to go quite far in achieving this. The Dayton Accords were built around the principle that there could be no adjustment in the borders of the former Yugoslav republics. Ethnic Serbs would live under Bosnian rule. The principle that existing borders were sacrosanct was embedded in the Dayton Accords.

In the late 1990s, a crisis began to develop in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Over the years, Albanians had moved into the province in a broad migration. By 1997, the province was overwhelmingly Albanian, although it had not only been historically part of Serbia but also its historical foundation. Nevertheless, the Albanians showed significant intentions of moving toward either a separate state or unification with Albania. Serbia moved to resist this, increasing its military forces and indicating an intention to crush the Albanian resistance.

There were many claims that the Serbians were repeating the crimes against humanity that were committed in Bosnia. The Americans and Europeans, burned by Bosnia, were eager to demonstrate their will. Arguing that something between crimes against humanity and genocide was under way — and citing reports that between 10,000 and 100,000 Kosovo Albanians were missing or had been killed — NATO launched a campaign designed to stop the killings. In fact, while some killings had taken place, the claims by NATO of the number already killed were false. NATO might have prevented mass murder in Kosovo. That is not provable. They did not, however, find that mass murder on the order of the numbers claimed had taken place. The war could be defended as a preventive measure, but the atmosphere under which the war was carried out overstated what had happened.

The campaign was carried out without U.N. sanction because of Russian and Chinese opposition. The Russians were particularly opposed, arguing that major crimes were not being committed and that Serbia was an ally of Russia and that the air assault was not warranted by the evidence. The United States and other European powers disregarded the Russian position. Far more important, they established the precedent that U.N. sanction was not needed to launch a war (a precedent used by George W. Bush in Iraq). Rather — and this is the vital point — they argued that NATO support legitimized the war.

This transformed NATO from a military alliance into a quasi-United Nations. What happened in Kosovo was that NATO took on the role of peacemaker, empowered to determine if intervention was necessary, allowed to make the military intervention, and empowered to determine the outcome. Conceptually, NATO was transformed from a military force into a regional multinational grouping with responsibility for maintenance of regional order, even within the borders of states that are not members. If the United Nations wouldn’t support the action, the NATO Council was sufficient.

Since Russia was not a member of NATO, and since Russia denied the urgency of war, and since Russia was overruled, the bombing campaign against Kosovo created a crisis in relations with Russia. The Russians saw the attack as a unilateral attack by an anti-Russian alliance on a Russian ally, without sound justification. Then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin was not prepared to make this into a major confrontation, nor was he in a position to. The Russians did not so much acquiesce as concede they had no options.

The war did not go as well as history records. The bombing campaign did not force capitulation and NATO was not prepared to invade Kosovo. The air campaign continued inconclusively as the West turned to the Russians to negotiate an end. The Russians sent an envoy who negotiated an agreement consisting of three parts. First, the West would halt the bombing campaign. Second, Serbian army forces would withdraw and be replaced by a multinational force including Russian troops. Third, implicit in the agreement, the Russian troops would be there to guarantee Serbian interests and sovereignty.

As soon as the agreement was signed, the Russians rushed troops to the Pristina airport to take up their duties in the multinational force — as they had in the Bosnian peacekeeping force. In part because of deliberate maneuvers and in part because no one took the Russians seriously, the Russians never played the role they believed had been negotiated. They were never seen as part of the peacekeeping operation or as part of the decision-making system over Kosovo. The Russians felt doubly betrayed, first by the war itself, then by the peace arrangements.

The Kosovo war directly effected the fall of Yeltsin and the rise of Vladimir Putin. The faction around Putin saw Yeltsin as an incompetent bungler who allowed Russia to be doubly betrayed. The Russian perception of the war directly led to the massive reversal in Russian policy we see today. The installation of Putin and Russian nationalists from the former KGB had a number of roots. But fundamentally it was rooted in the events in Kosovo. Most of all it was driven by the perception that NATO had now shifted from being a military alliance to seeing itself as a substitute for the United Nations, arbitrating regional politics. Russia had no vote or say in NATO decisions, so NATO’s new role was seen as a direct challenge to Russian interests.

Thus, the ongoing expansion of NATO into the former Soviet Union and the promise to include Ukraine and Georgia into NATO were seen in terms of the Kosovo war. From the Russian point of view, NATO expansion meant a further exclusion of Russia from decision-making, and implied that NATO reserved the right to repeat Kosovo if it felt that human rights or political issues required it. The United Nations was no longer the prime multinational peacekeeping entity. NATO assumed that role in the region and now it was going to expand all around Russia.

Then came Kosovo’s independence. Yugoslavia broke apart into its constituent entities, but the borders of its nations didn’t change. Then, for the first time since World War II, the decision was made to change Serbia’s borders, in opposition to Serbian and Russian wishes, with the authorizing body, in effect, being NATO. It was a decision avidly supported by the Americans.

The initial attempt to resolve Kosovo’s status was the round of negotiations led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari that officially began in February 2006 but had been in the works since 2005. This round of negotiations was actually started under U.S. urging and closely supervised from Washington. In charge of keeping Ahtisaari’s negotiations running smoothly was Frank G. Wisner, a diplomat during the Clinton administration. Also very important to the U.S. effort was Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, another leftover from the Clinton administration and a specialist in Soviet and Polish affairs.

In the summer of 2007, when it was obvious that the negotiations were going nowhere, the Bush administration decided the talks were over and that it was time for independence. On June 10, 2007, Bush said that the end result of negotiations must be “certain independence.” In July 2007, Daniel Fried said that independence was “inevitable” even if the talks failed. Finally, in September 2007, Condoleezza Rice put it succinctly: “There’s going to be an independent Kosovo. We’re dedicated to that.” Europeans took cues from this line.

How and when independence was brought about was really a European problem. The Americans set the debate and the Europeans implemented it. Among Europeans, the most enthusiastic about Kosovo independence were the British and the French. The British followed the American line while the French were led by their foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had also served as the U.N. Kosovo administrator. The Germans were more cautiously supportive.

On Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence and was recognized rapidly by a small number of European states and countries allied with the United States. Even before the declaration, the Europeans had created an administrative body to administer Kosovo. The Europeans, through the European Union, micromanaged the date of the declaration.

On May 15, during a conference in Ekaterinburg, the foreign ministers of India, Russia and China made a joint statement regarding Kosovo. It was read by the Russian host minister, Sergei Lavrov, and it said: “In our statement, we recorded our fundamental position that the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo contradicts Resolution 1244. Russia, India and China encourage Belgrade and Pristina to resume talks within the framework of international law and hope they reach an agreement on all problems of that Serbian territory.”

The Europeans and Americans rejected this request as they had rejected all Russian arguments on Kosovo. The argument here was that the Kosovo situation was one of a kind because of atrocities that had been committed. The Russians argued that the level of atrocity was unclear and that, in any case, the government that committed them was long gone from Belgrade. More to the point, the Russians let it be clearly known that they would not accept the idea that Kosovo independence was a one-of-a-kind situation and that they would regard it, instead, as a new precedent for all to follow.

The problem was not that the Europeans and the Americans didn’t hear the Russians. The problem was that they simply didn’t believe them — they didn’t take the Russians seriously. They had heard the Russians say things for many years. They did not understand three things. First, that the Russians had reached the end of their rope. Second, that Russian military capability was not what it had been in 1999. Third, and most important, NATO, the Americans and the Europeans did not recognize that they were making political decisions that they could not support militarily.

For the Russians, the transformation of NATO from a military alliance into a regional United Nations was the problem. The West argued that NATO was no longer just a military alliance but a political arbitrator for the region. If NATO does not like Serbian policies in Kosovo, it can — at its option and in opposition to U.N. rulings — intervene. It could intervene in Serbia and it intended to expand deep into the former Soviet Union. NATO thought that because it was now a political arbiter encouraging regimes to reform and not just a war-fighting system, Russian fears would actually be assuaged. To the contrary, it was Russia’s worst nightmare. Compensating for all this was the fact that NATO had neglected its own military power. Now, Russia could do something about it.

At the beginning of this discourse, we explained that the underlying issues behind the Russo-Georgian war went deep into geopolitics and that it could not be understood without understanding Kosovo. It wasn’t everything, but it was the single most significant event behind all of this. The war of 1999 was the framework that created the war of 2008.

The problem for NATO was that it was expanding its political reach and claims while contracting its military muscle. The Russians were expanding their military capability (after 1999 they had no place to go but up) and the West didn’t notice. In 1999, the Americans and Europeans made political decisions backed by military force. In 2008, in Kosovo, they made political decisions without sufficient military force to stop a Russian response. Either they underestimated their adversary or — even more amazingly — they did not see the Russians as adversaries despite absolutely clear statements the Russians had made. No matter what warning the Russians gave, or what the history of the situation was, the West couldn’t take the Russians seriously.

It began in 1999 with war in Kosovo and it ended in 2008 with the independence of Kosovo. When we study the history of the coming period, the war in Kosovo will stand out as a turning point. Whatever the humanitarian justification and the apparent ease of victory, it set the stage for the rise of Putin and the current and future crises.