Saturday, August 30, 2008

Daily Sources 8/30

I am not going to do this every weekend, but given that I have the time (and inclination.)

1. Gustav swells to dangerous Cat 3 storm off Cuba by Will Weissert at the Associated Press. Although the site usually takes the worst case scenario prediction as a given, there is a lot of useful data, discussion, and links about the possible direction and consequences of Gustav at To put this in context, the prediction highlighted on the site for Eduard was dire and did not, in any way, come to fruition. Still, very worthwhile data, links and analysis ... just take with a grain of salt.

2. Thomas Erdbrink at the Washington Post writes that the Iranian Depty For Min Ali Reza Sheikh Attar stated in an Iranian television interview that Iran is using 4,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, which is in the ballpark of the IAEA estimate. Not news, especially, but I guess the Post was looking to fill some space. The article does not note that the IAEA does not concluse that Iran is aiming to use this enriched uranium for the purpose of making nuclear weapons. At the end, the article mentions Putin's interview with CNN Thursday where he says that if the West refuses to take into consideration Russia's interests that the West should then resolve its issues with Iran without Russia's help. Reasonable enough. Sanctions don't have much chance of having the intended effect without being multilateral. Russia is a critical player with respect to Iran, not least because the nuclear power plant under construction in Iran is being built by a Russian consortium.

3. Ellen Knickmayer at the Washington Post gives an analysis of the general response in the Middle East to the Russia-Georgia conflict. Although it is burdened by the paradigm that most of the press has been approaching the conflict with, there are some decent data points. The most interesting bit is on how Turkey may be reappraising to what extent they can rely upon the US in the future. This process has been underway for some time, but I suspect it is mostly a tempest in a teapot. The primary issue is that populist Islam in Turkey--which is conservative, perhaps even revanchist--is growing in political significance. The US seems, at least from the open sources, to have ignored many of Turkey's interests in handling the conflict there, most especially the question of the Kurds. But the conflict in Georgia is likely to remind Turkey of one of the key reasons for its decision to join NATO in the first place--a long history of Russian aggression, nearly always framed as the liberation of oppressed ethnic groups in the Ottoman Empire. It is not lost on Turkey that Russia's most important ally in the Caucasus is Armenia. Still, I think that Turkey would support efforts to maintain Armenia's independence should Russia decide they wanted to reincorporate it--and I imagine that they would do so enthusiastically. What has been missing from the discussion overall is a definition of the parties' interests. Interests are always mentioned, as in Condoleeza Rice says "the reason Russia supports our efforts with Iran is because it is in their interests" ... but no one ever actually describes what they think those interests are. In any case, I think that the way most of the information is presented here is alarmist (minus the very last paragraphs) but that there is some good info, nonetheless.

4. Andrew E. Cramer at the New York Times writes that on Friday Georgia officially cut diplomatic relations with Russia and Russia responded in kind.

5. Robert Kagan has an op-ed in the weekend Wall Street Journal arguing that the realists have been proven wrong by events in Georgia, attributing to the realists the notion that economic integration will necessarily bring harmony. This piece is so wrong-headed and deliberately misleading that it is worth linking just to say this is total nonsense. "Realists," who, by the way, count Kissinger among their ranks, do not think that economics trump other considerations. They simply believe that Russia's economic interests are very intertwined with the West, which means that there is a strong disincentive to engage in a serious conflict with the West, as that will undermine their own position. They are in a debate with neocons--like Robert Kagan--who believe that use of force to export American morality to the rest of the world is not only ethically incumbent upon us, but strategically good sense. The problem is that the real reason the neocons are so successful in the public arena is because they agree, with the Idealists, that America should have a moral foreign policy. Realists certainly agree that morality is an important consideration in determining foreign policy, but, cold as this sounds, they think that it is mostly important in determining the staying-power of any given course of action. If it is clear to all that it is a moral course of action, most will stick with it. Otherwise, it is not likely to remain popular for long.

Realists argue, correctly in my opinion, that just because Americans think something is morally correct, does not mean that foreigners agree, and that American foreign policy should be based upon a careful consideration of American interests as well as careful consideration of how local histories will interact with contemporary actions in very foreign places. Certainly, the use of military force is on the table for realists, but they are reluctant to use it in complex situations unless the gains are very clear. They are reluctant to use force in situations on the basis of sentimental attachment to some supposed similarity with ourselves--a sort of narcissistic self-defense, which strings its way through the press. The problem with NATO expansion is not that it is provocative, it is: what American interests were served by such actions when it communicated to Russia--rightly or wrongly--the American understanding that they were still hostiles?!

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