Monday, February 23, 2009

Hillary Unchained?

Courtesy of the WaPo, comes a heartening bit from SecState Clinton's inaugural jaunt through Asia:

BEIJING, Feb. 22 -- Hillary Rodham Clinton's blunt and unadorned style of diplomacy has been evident throughout her first trip as secretary of state the past week in Asia. She questioned the efficacy of sanctions against the repressive junta in Burma, spoke openly about a possible succession crisis in North Korea and admitted that she expected to make little progress on human rights in China.

To a certain extent, these comments crossed taboo lines in international diplomacy. U.S. officials generally do not say their sanctions have failed, or speculate about the future government of another country, or suggest that a carefully watched human rights dialogue is largely a farce.

Clinton's willingness to speak frankly -- combined with an extensive effort to get beyond ministerial meetings in order to hold town hall meetings and conduct local television interviews in the countries she visits -- suggests she will put a distinctive personal stamp on the Obama administration's foreign policy. What is emerging is something less rigid, less cautious and more open.

Before her meetings in Beijing, for instance, Clinton said she would raise human rights issues with Chinese officials, "but we pretty much know what they're going to say."

Readers will recall that I've been guardely sanguine about Hillary as SecState. This story does nothing to disabuse me of my initial optimism. In her statements about the human rights record in China, she is either being very savvy or very foolhardy. Not surprisingly, the situation is more-than-ably summarized by John Bolton:

Former U.N. ambassador John R. Bolton, who was known for his bluntness, said he thinks "our diplomacy should be more candid, with less doublespeak, so if she really meant to say what she said, I don't mind at all. When the Democrats endorse candor in diplomacy, I'll be a happy man."

But he added: "The issue with whatever she says, candid or not, is whether it has an objective in mind, or whether she is just running at the mouth. This is the difference between an executive branch official and a senator, academic, think-tanker, reporter, whatever. Executive branch officials, by definition, are not just bloviating, but executing policies."

And that, really, is the heart of the matter. If Hillary is publicly setting up shamefully low expectations for the Chinese, while gearing up to privately develop face-saving alternatives in the area of human rights, all the while preserving the critical economic and political interconnections which are so fundamental to globalization, then she is showing herself to be a formidable and subtle operator in line with her greatest strengths, for the service of American interests (to say nothing of long-suffering Chinese). If she is just blowing smoke, which she will trap in a cynical ionizing filter of nuance over the days to come, then she is acting on the worst expectations of geopolitical fecklessness which Obama's campaign threatened.

For the moment, though, allow me to register one qualified "attagirl!"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Handy Political Compass Quiz

In case you haven't noticed, I've not had much in the way of surplus energy/time for blogging of late. Stubbornly persistent flu, a burst of practice-building efforts, and General Life Stuff have intervened, as they are wont to do (as any of you who are acquainted with any three year-olds doubtless know, the task of being an outboard superego for such a beast is a formidable one!).

And, of course, I am still scrambling up the learning curve in search of secure footing in reconciling myself to the current occupant of a certain House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, in the meantime, I thought I would pass along a useful little quiz for identifying one's position on a variety of dimensions of political thought:

This quiz will let you know where you fall on social liberties, economics, foreign policy-- even the culture war. In truth, this isn't a quiz so much as a set of statements that you must agree or disagree with. Based on your responses we will place you on a graph--also termed a political compass--that separates social liberties from economic opinion.

Such quizzes are a dime a dozen, and most are pure crap. However, the results of this one lined up pretty intuitively with how I informally assessed my evolving political views. For giggles, I herewith present my results:

Political Views

I am a right moderate social
Right: 5.15, Libertarian: 3.34

Foreign Policy Views

Score: 5.56

Culture War Stance

Score: -0.62

I thought it might be entertaining for any readers out there to have a go at this, and see where they stand/fall. If nothing else, it might make for some good sport in the Comments section!

Have at it!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Required Reading on Afghanistan

Courtesy of FormerSpook, comes this lengthy but indispensable essay by Fred Kagan on the challenges facing General Petraeus and the Obama Administration as we prepare to ramp up our efforts in the Af-Pak theater. As I have written previously, the tasks of adapting the sophisticated counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy which has been so successful in Iraq to the profoundly different terrain and cultural milieu in Afghanistan represents a formidable set of tests for the resiliency and resolve of our military and diplomatic corps. Kagan lines up nine general categories of challenges which we face, and offers suggestions on how to develop plans to overcome them.

Those of us who are diligently watching the fledgling Obama administration's handling of the geopolitical tasks which it has inherited would do well to read this essay very carefully, and to pay very close attention to the signs that its prescriptions are being followed. This is one which Obama absolutely has to get right, and simply throwing troops into the theater without such a carefully thought-out strategy is a recipe for a very costly disaster. Still, Obama has so far been smart enough to keep Bob Gates on as SecDef, and has shown no inclination to mess arround with the command structure of our military (most notably, he has tasked CENCOM head General Petraeus with developing the strategy for winning in Afghanistan. Very good sign, that). This is going to be a very difficult campaign, requiring steadfast and intelligent committment. Let us hope most fervently that Obama is made of the sort of stuff which it will take to see us through it. As Kagan sums up:

This essay does not provide a plan or a strategy for success in Afghanistan. It provides, rather, a set of guidelines for thinking about how to develop one, and for evaluating plans articulated by the administration, its generals, and outsiders. Ultimately, a plan for winning in Afghanistan has to be developed in Afghanistan, just as the plan for winning in Iraq was developed in Iraq. It is a truism that any plan must involve not only the U.S. and allied militaries, but all relevant civilian and international agencies, and must deeply involve the Afghans themselves at every level. Our military and civilian leaders understand that truism. We have failed to date in accomplishing the objective not because we haven’t known that we must, but because it is very hard to do.

But hard is not hopeless in Afghanistan any more than it was in Iraq. The stakes are high, as they always are when
America puts its brave young men and women in harm’s way. President Obama has an opportunity in the difficult challenge he faces. So far, he appears determined to try to do the right thing. He deserves the active support and encouragement of every American in that attempt.

Again, Obama has seen fit to keep some very capable people at the reins of this very balky beast. Let us Hope that he gives them everything they need on the dark and dangerous path they must walk.