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How to Evolve an Exit Strategy From America’s Foreign Policy Shambles — The Polk Report

Territorial Control Of The ISIS Svg 600X4581

In a nutshell, recent events in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Ukraine show there is no grand-strategic focus to America’s increasingly militarized foreign policy. A German officer in the old imperial army might say, ''kein Schwerpunkt''!

What we call foreign policy and grand strategy in the 21st Century — i.e., that ‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’* — has devolved into a self-righteous welter of bluster, threats, arms transfers, puny demonstrations (e.g., deployments of two or three B-2s), proxy wars, and bombing (especially, targeted liquidations with drones from a safe distance instead of a bullet in the back of the head), all aimed ad hoc in reaction to any crisis du jour. The pattern is more like a giant whack-a-mole game than a sensible grand strategy aimed at ending conflicts on favorable terms, while paying due regard to strengthening our bonds at home and with our allies, undermining the cohesion of our adversaries, and coping efficiently with the internal constraints limiting our actions.

Consider, please, the following: Last month President Obama announced we would extend our stay in Afghanistan — a war we have clearly lost — until the end of 2016. Last week, Mr. Obama, after months of procrastination, said he was considering sending weapons to the Syrian Sunni insurgents fighting President Assad. The most effective of these insurgents are the ISIS Jihadis who are fighting and defeating, as well as stealing or buying weapons from the other insurgents.
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Critiquing America’s Brain-Dead Foreign Policy 'Debate'

Stephen Walt

Yesterday, Harvard’s Steve Walt posted an amusingly sharp piece on what’s wrong with America’s so-called foreign policy “debate.”  Steve’s piece, titled “Take 2 Ambien and Call Me When It’s Over:  I’d Rather Spoon My Own Eye Out Than Sit Through This Year’s Think-Tank-a-Palooza,” see here, appears on his blog at Foreign Policy; we also highlight key excerpts below. 

The piece includes a nice reference to us; more importantly, it aptly encapsulates the brain-dead quality of most mainstream discussion in the United States about America’s role in and engagement with the wider world and dares to suggest what a more serious discussion would look like.

Steve opens by noting the widespread and mounting dissatisfaction with U.S. foreign policy:
“Nobody seems to be happy with U.S. foreign policy these days.  It’s not hard to see why.  Relations with Russia are frosty and could get worse.  China is throwing sharp elbows and looking for opportunities to shift the status quo in Asia.  The NSA is out of control.  Afghanistan and Iraq were failures.  Libya is a mess, Syria is worse, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s quixotic effort at Middle East peacemaking was a farce.  Al Qaeda keeps spreading and morphing no matter how many leaders our drones and Special Forces kill.  With criticism mounting, U.S. President Barack Obama defended his basic approach at West Point and hardly anyone came away feeling any better.  And now we are having a pointless squabble over repatriated POW Bowe Bergdahl.

With nearly everyone—from Afghanistan War veterans to former envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to former Ambassador Robert Ford to—upset about how things are going, it’s time for our premier foreign-policy institutions to step up with some outside-the-box thinking on how the United States could do better.  Surely well-informed experts can offer fresh thinking on how the United States can deal with a world that seems to spin more out of control each month.”

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The Sino-Russian Hydrocarbon Axis Grows Up

Eight years ago, in the pages of The National Interest, Flynt Leverett and Pierre Noël identified a “new axis of oil”—a “shifting coalition of both energy exporting and energy importing states centered in ongoing Sino-Russian collaboration”—that was emerging as an increasingly important counterweight to the United States on a widening range of international issues.  While, at the time, Russian oil and gas exports to China were negligible, Leverett and Noël projected that Russian hydrocarbons would become “a major factor buttressing closer Sino-Russian strategic collaboration” in the future.

Western analysts have long been skeptical of the prospects for sustained Sino-Russian cooperation—but over the last eight years, the new axis of oil has become undeniable market and geopolitical reality.  Russia is now one of China’s top three oil suppliers (with Saudi Arabia and Angola) and is set to grow its oil exports to China significantly in coming years.
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Can the West Get Out of Its (Self-Made) Cul-de-Sac in Syria?


In recent years, the limits on America’s ability to shape important outcomes in the Middle East unilaterally—or even with a few European partners—have been dramatically underscored by strategically failed interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Last year, President Obama’s inability to act on his declared intention to attack Syria after chemical weapons were used there in August made clear that Washington can no longer credibly threaten the effective use of force in the region.

Still, American and other Western elites persist in thinking they can dictate the Middle East’s future by helping armed insurgents overthrow Syria’s recognized government. If Western powers don’t drop their insistence that President Bashar al-Assad leave power—even though he retains the support of a majority of Syrians and is winning his fight against opposition forces—and get serious about facilitating a political settlement between Assad and parts of the opposition, they will do further damage to their own already distressed position in the Middle East.

Since protests broke out in parts of Syria in March 2011, Western policy has focused on destabilizing President Assad and his government.  American, British, and French decision-makers calculated that, by undermining Assad, they could inflict a damaging blow to Iran’s regional position. They also reckoned that targeting Assad would help coopt the Arab Awakening that had emerged in the months preceding the start of unrest in Syria.
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Targeting Iran


I am going to explain why Gareth Porter’s new book Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare is possibly the most important expose of political corruption and government malfeasance to appear in the past ten years. Investigative reporter Porter’s meticulously documented account tells the tale of how the government lied again and again to make a fabricated from full cloth case, which he describes as a "false narrative," against Iran. While the tale was being spun, the US and Israeli governments both knew that the entire process was completely bogus and that Iran had no nuclear weapons program but they continued to engage in the deception in spite of the fact that it created a crisis where none existed and generated an international confrontation that could have easily been avoided.

Shockingly, Washington participated in the fraud in spite of there being no compelling national interest to do so and in the latter stages of the grand deception it colluded with Israel to disseminate false documents and blatantly misleading assessments made by Mossad, while also feeding inaccurate information and other fabricated intelligence to both US allies and the media. It also aggressively pressured international bodies to force them to lend credibility to the lies in support of a US agenda that was both fraudulent and that made no sense then just as it makes no sense now. Along the way the United States ignored its obligations in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is a signatory, a clear violation of Article Six of the Constitution, and eventually brought itself perilously close to an unnecessary war, a trap engineered by Israel and its powerful friends which it is currently trying to disengage from.
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America and the Arab Awakening: Déjà Vu?

Three years ago, Washington experienced its own dose of “shock and awe” — the PR phrase used to sanitise its brutal invasion of Iraq — when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ordinary Arabs took to the streets to demand the overthrow of leaders more interested in Washington’s approval than that of their own peoples. But American policy elites’ professed surprise was primarily a function of their own self-imposed amnesia and delusion.

No one in Washington seemed to realise or care that Egyptians forced their pro-American dictator from power on February 11, 2011 — 32 years to the day after the Shah of Iran’s military conceded to the will of the Iranian people, giving birth to the Islamic Republic of Iran and bringing down a pillar of American dominance in the region.
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The Year of Iran: Tehran’s Challenge to American Hegemony in 2014

Hassan Rohani’s election as Iran’s president seven months ago caught most of the West’s self-appointed Iran “experts” by (largely self-generated) surprise. Over the course of Iran’s month-long presidential campaign, methodologically-sound polls by the University of Tehran showed that a Rohani victory was increasingly likely.

Yet Iran specialists at Washington’s leading think tanks continued erroneously insisting (as they had for months before the campaign formally commenced) that Iranians could not be polled like other populations and that there would be “a selection rather than an election,” engineered to install Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s “anointed” candidate—in most versions, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. On election day, as Iranian voters began casting their ballots, the Washington Post proclaimed that Rohani “will not be allowed to win”—a statement reflecting virtual consensus among American pundits.
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Obama and Kerry Jeopardize Peace With Iran

Obama Iran

Barack Obama and John Kerry should make up their minds: Do they want war or peace with Iran?

We should hope for peace, but Obama and Kerry make optimism difficult.

Ideally, the Obama administration would simply exit the Middle East, taking all its military and economic aid with it. The U.S. government cannot micromanage events there, especially when it is no honest, neutral broker. Shamefully, it is firmly in the Israeli camp against the Palestinians (who, let us remember, are the occupied, not the occupiers), and generally in the Sunni Muslim camp against the Shi’ites, led by Iran. (Iraq is the anomaly.)

As welcome as a U.S. exit would be, alas, it won’t happen anytime soon, so the best we can hope for is rapprochement with Iran. The U.S.-led economic sanctions impose an unconscionable hardship on Iranians — for example, depriving the elderly and children of medicines and nourishment. Clearly, a war would be catastrophic on many levels for nearly all concerned, including Americans. (I say “nearly all” because opportunistic rulers in Israel and Saudi Arabia could benefit.)
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Is Obama Trying to Resolve or Prolong the Conflict in Syria?


Suppose a great power declares that it supports a peace process aimed at finding a political solution to a terrible, ongoing conflict.  Then suppose that this great power makes such declarations after it has already proclaimed its strong interest in the defeat of one of the main parties to said conflict.  And then suppose that this great power insists on preconditions for a peace process — preconditions effectively boiling down to a demand for pre-emptive surrender by the party whose defeat the great power has already identified as its major goal — which render such a process impossible.  Is it not reasonable to conclude that the great power in question is (how to put this gently) lying about its purported support for peace?

That, in a nutshell, is the Obama administration’s posture toward the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon began sending out invitations for the Geneva II conference on Syria scheduled for January 22.  And, as Ban’s spokesperson acknowledged, the Islamic Republic of Iran was not among the “first round” of nations asked to take part.
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Iran, the United States, and the Middle East in 2014

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The year 2013 was, for many reasons, an important year for the Islamic Republic of Iran, for U.S.-Iranian relations, and for the Middle East more generally.  Looking back, one thing which strikes us as especially important is that, during 2013, the failures of U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East (and the gradual implosion of America’s position in the region) became evident even to some who were too analytically obtuse or ideologically reluctant to notice it earlier.

President Obama’s largely self-inflicted debacle over his declared intention to attack Syria after chemical weapons were used there in August was particularly crucial in this regard.  It is no accident that the Obama administration became at least superficially more interested in diplomacy after this episode.  For Obama’s flailing over Syria underscored that, after strategically failed military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the United States cannot now credibly threaten the effective use of force for hegemonic purposes in the Middle East.

If 2013 was a year in which the profound deficiencies of America’s Middle East strategy were on extended display, we expect that 2014 will be a year in which the effectiveness of Iranian strategy comes to the fore.  We are not optimistic that Obama and his team will get diplomacy with Iran “right.”  Fundamentally, official Washington remains unwilling to accept the Islamic Republic as an enduring political entity representing legitimate national interests, and to incorporate such acceptance into U.S. policy on the nuclear issue, the Syrian conflict, and other Middle Eastern challenges.
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