My ‘Introduction to North Korea’ Essay for Al Jazeera Center for Studies


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The pic is me and my NK guide in front of one of the many ubiquitous statues of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang.

Besides running a TV network, Al Jazeera also has something called the ‘Al Jazeera Center for Studies.’ I know what you thinking; it’s the same thing I said – study of what? Judging by the looks of it, the Center provides introductory country and regional snapshots of places around the world to an Arab audience. This is very laudatory to my mind. The problems with Arab education have been well-documented, so I am happy to see this and participate in it. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Al Jazeera is a lot better than many people think, especially compared to CNN, much less Fox. It’s reputation as ‘terrorist TV’ isn’t really deserved.

So they reached out to me to provide a primer on NK. Here it is on their site, and it is reposted below the jump. I think they called me because I have occasionally been on the network as a talking head. And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I was paid to provide this essay – not that I can think of any apparent conflicts of interest between Arab cable TV and North Korea.

They only gave me 2000 words, so I emphasize the permanent legitimacy crisis of NK after the end of the Cold War and the near-implosion of the 1990s; the semi-theocratic Kim family cult; and the patronage of China that keeps this ramshackle jalopy on the road. Please keep that tight word-limit in mind in your comments/criticisms. There is so much one could choose to emphasize, but I would be curious to see if you think this is fair. Also, this is meant for laymen, particularly in the Arab world, for whom this stuff is pretty foreign, I would imagine. So the detail is limited compared to the knowledge base of the likely readership of this blog. Still, I feel pretty god that I covered a lot of ground in short space. Here it is:

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Final Iraq Post – from the Archives: My 2007 Essay in Support of the Iraq Surge


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Back when I was at Ohio State University in graduate school, I was solicited by a friend to write for a start-up journal in political science. The journal didn’t survive, but my essay at the time was on the surge debate. Given that I’ve been talking about Iraq for the last month here, I thought I’d put this up; it’s not available elsewhere anymore. This is the unaltered text from the spring 2007. I feel like I did pretty well actually. I still agree with most of what I wrote 6 years ago in the midst of the war’s worst days:

One Last Chance in Iraq for a Sustainable War on Terror

The sense that the United States is losing the war (or more precisely, the peace) in Iraq is palpable. The cable news networks are filled with images of burning cars and markets. The Bush administration seems almost paralyzed – reciting only bromides about freedom and democracy as the long-predicted post-sovereignty civil war seems already to have begun. New York Times pundits like Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman increasing see a negotiated, half-and-half, ‘at-least-its-better-than-Saddam’ outcome as the most likely scenario. Centrist/liberal supporters of the war, like the Economist and the New Republic are publishing a flurry of criticism that we are ‘losing the peace’ despite having won the war. Even conservatives like the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard, stalwart defenders of the war, have backed away from higher hopes of a democratic, liberal Iraq which the President outlined.

But the growing Iraqi withdrawal debate is wrong-headed. The pullout mooted by such diverse figures as Senator Charles Hagel, Jon Stewart, and Cindy Sheehan would be catastrophic, and our growing national fantasy with its imminence is hazardous. It creates an unreal expectation that ignores the probable post-withdrawal bloodbath, emboldens the insurgents to hang tough, gives false comfort to military families especially, and tempts the Democrats to abdicate responsible policy input for cheap political shots.

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Guest Post – Tom Nichols: “Bob Kelly was Wrong (and Right) about the Iraq War”


imagesCAI6BD5TI am happy to invite my friend Tom Nichols to guest-post about the continuing Iraq War debate. Tom responded so substantially to my original post series on the war (one, two, three), that I invited him to provide a longer write-up. Tom is a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School. His blog can be found here, his twitter here. His opinions of course are his own, so whenever he says I’m wrong, you probably shouldn’t listen… REK

I’ve been reading Bob’s thoughts – cogent as always – on the 10th anniversary of Iraq. I reject Bob’s exploration of the “culpability” of the IR field for providing any kind of intellectual infrastructure for the war, mostly because I don’t think anyone in Washington, then or now, listens to us, and for good reason. Joe Nye long ago lamented that lack of influence elsewhere, and others agree (by “others” I mean “me”). So I won’t rehearse it here.

Bob and I sort of agree that the outcome of the war doesn’t say much about the prescience of at least some of the war’s opponents: there were people whose default position was almost any exercise of U.S. power is likely to be bad, and they don’t get points for being right by accident.

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Iraq 10 Years Later (3): Why the Neocon Theory behind the War Failed


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My first post on the Iraq War asked if academic IR had any responsibility to slow the march to war.

The second tried to formulate what the   neoconservative theory of the war was, because many of us, in retrospect of a conflict gone so badly, desperately want to un-remember that there really was a logic to the war, that it was at least somewhat intellectually defensible, and that a lot of us believed it. We may want to retroactively exculpate ourselves by suggesting it was just W the cowboy acting ridiculous, or a neocon hijacking of the policy process, or Halliburton oil imperialism, and all the other reasons so popular on the left. And some of that is true of course.

But it ducks the crucial point that the war was popular until it flew wildly off-the-rails, which in turn revealed the staggering incompetence of the Bush administration to act on the neocon logic the country had embraced by March 2003. In short, I argued that the Iraq invasion was not about WMD, preemption, or democracy, although that rationale was played up in the wake of the failure to find WMD. The real neocon goal was to scare the daylights out of the Arabs and their elites by punching one of their worst regimes in the face, thereby showing what was coming to rest of the region unless it cleaned up its act, i.e., crack down on salafism and liberalize so as to defuse the cultural extremism that lead to 9/11. (Read Ajami saying in January 2003 that the war is ‘to modernize the Arabs;’ that’s about as a good a pre-war summary of this logic as you’ll get.)

So what went wrong?

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Iraq 10 Years Later (2): What was the Neocon Theory behind the War?


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My first thoughts on the war’s ten year anniversary are here. There I asked if there was any defensible theory behind the war, anything that might explain what why we launched the war, because weapons of mass destruction were not really the reason. Paul Wolfowitz notoriously admitted they were just a pretext to rally the country behind the invasion. And it wasn’t really about pre-emption either; Iraq was hardly a looming military threat in 2003. So here’s my guess of the real neoconservative logic. I should say up front, I do not endorse this rationale. I’m just trying to lay it out what I think neocons were saying to each other in 2002:

The Iraq invasion was to serve two purposes. 1) It was to be a demonstration strike against the Arabs. Gulf anti-western pathologies lead to 9/11, so the Iraq invasion was a warning to Arabs, and Muslims generally, to never to attack the US like that again. As Cheney put it in the film W, ‘don’t ever f— with us again.’ 2) It was to be a hammer strike to break the frozen, horribly dysfunctional Arab political status quo which generated those pathologies; this would force the region toward democracy it would never attain on its own. This thinking was summarized in the widely used expression at the time, ‘drain the swamp.’

A lot of people will (and did) accuse the neocons of orientalism, racism, and US hegemonic arrogance. Nevertheless I’ve always thought this neocon argument was somewhat convincing to most Americans, especially the GOP. I’ve always thought it was the horribly botched execution of the war (‘fiasco’), not the idea itself of ‘draining the swamp,’ that cost the invasion American public opinion support. I also don’t think the neocon argument was ever properly made to the US public, probably because it sounds both orientalist and hubristic. This is not the sort of argument the Bush administration could make out loud; WMD was much easier to sell and far more direct, as Wolfowitz noted. But I think if you read neocons like Kristol, Krauthammer, Gerecht, or Podhoretz, as well as high profile area experts like Thomas Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, or Bernard Lewis, or the right-wing thinks-tanks that supported the war (AEI, Heritage, Foundation for Defense of Democracies), this is what you heard. (For example: this, this, this, this, or this). I once participated in the FDDs’ terrorism fellowship program, and this was pretty much the line we got.

So you may not like the argument, but at least there is one. The war cannot just be dismissed as US imperialism, an oil grab, or a PNAC/neocon cabal, which I think was too often the default position on the left, especially in Europe, during the war. Opponents should rebut this and not just stick to deriding W the swaggering cowboy, fun as that may be.

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Iraq 10 Years Later (1): How Culpable is Academic International Relations?


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I’ve been thinking a lot about the war this month. I’ll be teaching it in the next few weeks at school because of the decade anniversary (March 20). To my mind, it is the most important geopolitical event, for the US, possibly the planet, since the USSR’s collapse. It also pre-occupies me to this day, because I initially supported it, and didn’t really turn against it until 2008/09. I had students who told me, late in the war, that I was the only instructor they knew who still supported the invasion. Finally, I gave in, and accepted the by-then conventional wisdom that the war was a ‘fiasco.’ I will argue in my next post in a few days, that there was in fact an at least minimally defensible argument for the war, but the execution of it was so awful, disorganized, mismanaged, and incompetent, that any moral justification was lost in the sea of blood and torture we unleashed.

The whole episode became just shameful, and regularly teaching and conferencing with non-Americans these last few years has made this so painfully clear. My students particularly are just bewildered to the point of incredulity. Again and again, the basic thought behind the questions is, ‘what the hell happened to you people? 9/11 made you lose your minds there?’ *sigh* (NB: when Asians ask me about guns in the US, the ‘what the hell is wrong with you people?’ bafflement is the same.)

Hence, the post title purposefully implies that the invasion was a bad idea. But to be fair, that should be the first question: what, if any, arguments at this point can be mustered to defend the war? IR should try to answer this seriously, because I’m all but positive that the journalistic debate will be not be driven by the state of Iraq or US foreign policy today, but by the high personal reputational costs faced by so many pundits supportive of the war. It would not surprise me at all if folks like the Kagans, Krauthammer, or Thomas Friedman miraculously found that the war was worth it after all. McNamara-style mea culpas only happen at the end of a career (so I give Sullivan and Fukuyama credit for theirs on Iraq). But academic international relations (IR) should be more honest than that.

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VP Debate once again tells Asia & the World that all We care about is the Middle East


Yes, it’s partisan, but it’s a somewhat useful deconstruction

 

First, I included the above video to reference a point I tried to make last week – that Romney flip-flopped so much in the first debate that I no longer have any idea what he thinks about the big issues of campaign. I just wish I knew wth Romney wants to do with the presidency. There has to be some purpose, some reason to vote for him, and I can’t find it. Someone tell me in a few coherent, specifics-laden paragraphs why I should vote for him? Not why Obama is a bad president – I know that already – but why Romney should be president. Honestly, I don’t know, which makes his presidential run look like a vanity project or something.

Second, did anyone else think that the vice-presidential debate once again broadcast to the world that our foreign policy is dominated by the Middle East? It was all about Iran, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Obviously, these are all important places and issues. But it doesn’t take a lot of foreign policy training to know that Russia’s ever-more erratic course under Czar Putin, a possible euro-EU meltdown, or China are a lot more important to the US’ future than a bunch of small, poor fractured states in the Middle East. But no, let’s argue once again about Israel, Iran, terrorism, Iraq…  Good grief. There are other issues out there!

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Say Ron Paul Won…Which US Allies would get Retrenched? (2) Japan?


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This post series is getting so much traffic, here is a part three on likelihood of retrenchment. Here is part one where argued that America’s 8 most important allies are, in order: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, and South Korea.

I argued for 3 quick-and-dirty reasons for that ranking, but I got some criticism on these in the first post, so here is some elaboration :

1. National Security: Some places, like SA and Mexico, may not appeal much to Americans, but they are so obviously important, that abandonment would be hugely risky. So yes, SA is a nasty, reactionary ‘frenemy,’ not really an ally at all, but we’re stuck with it. A Saudi collapse would set off both huge economic and Islamic religious turmoil; all the more reason to slowly exit the Middle East and pursue green energy. But until then, I think we have to be honest and say that we can’t really leave the Gulf. But the bar of this criterion should be awfully high. With some frenemies, like Afghanistan and Pakistan, we don’t really need to pretend to be allies actually. We can just get out if have to.

2. Need: In some places, the US can get a lot more bang for its commitment buck, because without us, our ally would likely collapse/lose/fail. Taiwan is the most obvious example. Conversely, other places, like Germany, pretend to need us, because they don’t want to shell out the cash (and we’re so bewitched of our God-given, history-ending, last-best-hope-for-mankind, bound-to-lead neocon unipolar awesome-ness that we let ourselves get taken for a ride).Between Taiwan and Germany, I would place Israel and SK.

3. Values/Symbolism: I don’t like this criterion much, because it reminds me a lot of McNamara, ‘credibility,’ Vietnam, the Munich analogy and all that. But still, there are a few places where the American commitment has taken on an almost ‘metaphysical,’ good-guys-vs-bad-guys dimension. The whole world is watching, and a departure would be seen as a huge retreat from critical values that would bolster dictators everywhere, especially in China and Russia. SK is the most obvious example. NK is so bizarre, frightening, and horrific that while the US commitment isn’t really that necessary anymore, it’s taken on a symbolism wholly out of proportion to events on the peninsula. Taiwan also comes to mind, as does cold war West Germany. Avoiding another such perpetual commitment was one of the important reasons to get out of Iraq. If we’d stayed, we might have have gotten chain-ganged into never leaving our symbol of GWoT ‘success.’ We really don’t need more of that sort thing

So back to the list. Now come the ones that can more easily be retrenched, because either they are wealthy enough to defend themselves, or their value to the US has fallen:

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The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (3): We can’t afford it


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Please read parts one and two first, where I argued that there is no constituency in the US for the pivot, and that Asia is so culturally distant from the US, that Americans are unlikely to care enough to sustain the pivot. But we also don’t really need to pivot, nor do we have the money for it:

3. The Middle East is characterized by so many nondemocracies that the US must be heavily invested (at least to meet current US goals – oil, Israel, counterterrorism). Katzenstein noted this; America has no strong subordinate anchor-state in the region (like Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia). This is why the GOP particularly emphasizes an enduring, semi-imperial presence in the Gulf. Besides tiny Israel, we don’t have the friends necessary for things like the dual containment (Iran and Iraq) of the 90s, and or the Iraq war of the 2000s. So we have to do it all ourselves.

By contrast in Asia, we have lots of allies and semi-friends who are strong and functional – Japan, Australia, Korea, and Taiwan most obviously – with improving relations with India and Vietnam too. Now, if we are smart – or maybe just because we are broke – we can push a lot of the costs of our goals onto them. Specifically, much of the pivot has been assumed to be targeted at China. But why should we encircle, contain, or otherwise provoke China, when the frontline states should be it doing it first? In other words, we don’t have to pivot toward Asia unless China threatens to invade everybody, because places like India, Korea, and Japan will work hard to build and maintain a multipolar equilibrium. They don’t want to be dominated by China, and they will suffer a lot more than we will if China becomes the regional hegemon. So we can hover in the background, offshore, over the horizon, as we always have. Given the strength of liberal democracy in Asia (unlike the ME), there is no need for us to be there in strength.

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Foreign Policy of the GOP Debates (1): We couldn’t care less @ Foreigners


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MEDIA UPDATE: On November 8, I published a brief write-up on the US-Korean alliance with the East Asia Forum. EAF is a good outlet for readers of this site. The piece was based on longer writings here on the blog earlier this fall. Comments are welcome.

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There have been lots of these GOP debates (here is the whole schedule), and the one above, from Nov 12, is the most relevant for readers of this site. Here is a decent write-up on that debate, and after months of them, there is enough said to provide something to say on the (otherwise scarcely discussed) foreign policy edge of the primary.

1. Any first foreign policy comment must be, paradoxically, that foreign policy isn’t really much of an issue. No one at the primary stage really cares about foreign policy, beyond Israel, which increasingly isn’t seen as foreign policy at all, at least by the GOP, and a general chest-thumping of American awesomeness. This is not news for Americans. US observers all know that domestic politics, especially the economy, pretty much determines elections. When you are a superpower you have the luxury to disdain and ignore foreigners. But foreigners don’t know this as well, and US allies especially often build-up (self-serving) images of themselves as ‘critical’ to the US, even though monolinguistic, untravelled Americans couldn’t care less about these countries (poor Georgia; the entirely ginned-up Korean belief that K-pop is a ‘wave’ in the US; a self-important German colleague once told me that America should never force Berlin to choose between Washington and Paris – oh please! like we care, dude!). Indeed, Hermann Cain’s rise and his staggering ignorance about the non-US world tells you that disinterest in the world – presumably because we are so exceptional and powerful that we don’t need to care – is almost welcomed by the Tea Partiers who hate IOs, illegal immigrants, and US bargaining with foreigners. Build the fence higher! And electrify it!

2. For all the hype about the US switching its focus to Asia, you wouldn’t know that from the debates. Do you really think that the average tea party white guy voter cares about SK or Japan? The Middle East was far more dominant. Iran, Pakistan, Israel, and the rest of the usual suspects were everywhere. I think I heard Gingrich mention NK once in this debate. The China stuff between Huntsman and Romney was flat. India wasn’t even mentioned, but waterboarding (of GWoT detainees) was a disturbingly hot topic. Again, this isn’t news to US observers who know how many Americans, especially Christians, take a fairly apocalyptic, clash-of-civilizations view of the GWoT. Bachmann even warned of a global nuclear war against Israel (god, she’s a terrifying flake). Elites may want an Asian turn in US focus (as I think would also be a good idea), but the ‘Christianist’ GOP electorate remains focused on the ME, and we should expect that to continue to dominate US time, even if we don’t want it to. Terrorism, oil, and Israel aren’t going anywhere.

Asians are bound to be disappointed, because of the deep-rooted belief (desire, actually), verging on desperation, that the US should pay attention more to them. (Read this and this – apparently India and Southeast Asia are ‘indispensible’ for the US. Oh, and so is Latin America. — Not! Americans just don’t care. Elites aren’t the voters. Build the fence higher!) What this tells you is that the Asia hype is a lot more hollow than Asians want to admit, because it requires US attention to be justified. So America is still the unipole whether you like it or not (natch), and the ‘new Asia’ schtick is more about Asian insecurity and desire for prestige, than it is about empirical shifts. (Yes, the shift is happening, but a lot slower than the ‘Asia is the future’ types I meet here all the time will admit.) I have argued before that Americans just don’t care than much about Asia, no matter how many Asians tell us we should. Israel or even ‘old Europe’ Ireland is a lot more recognizable to Americans than Shanghai or Bangalore. Further, so long as India, Japan, China, and the rest out here are all balancing each other and competing, the US doesn’t really need to get sucked into the maelstroms of the Korean peninsula or the South China Sea anyway. The Asian hype that the US should pay more attention out here is really an effort to get the US to help locals contain China, which bait we should not take, IMO.

3. Cain, Bachmann, and Perry are way out of their depth. By now everyone knows Cain’s ‘U beki beki stan stan’ remark and Bachmann’s off-the-wall assertion that the ‘ACLU runs the CIA.’ (Yes, the same Agency that runs the drone strikes that now kill US citizens.) But even Perry can’t seem to give good answers – that he ‘commands’ the national guard and has friends in the Defense Department are qualifications for the White House. That’s all he’s got after 3 months on the trail? What happened to Perry? He seemed so imposing back in August, and he has just crashed. He comes off more clueless and lost in the woods, after his pre-scripted reply sentences run out, than even Bush. It’s amazing how weak this field is (which is why Romney is running away with this thing, even though no one likes him).

Part two will go up in three days.

Syria Sanctions failed b/c of R2P Overreach in Libya – get out Nato


In the last 6 weeks, I warned that if NATO kept the operation in Libya rolling, it would tarnish the responsibility to protect doctrine (R2P). R2P says external military force can be used to prevent massive human rights abuses, like Srebrenica or Rwanda. In Libya, an R2P intervention was justified, because Gaddafi and his sons talked about ‘rivers of blood in the streets’ and hunting the rebels ‘like rats, allay by alley.’

But after the fall of Tripoli, it was clear that Gaddafi was not longer a massive human rights threat in Libya. The National Transition Council clearly no longer needed NATO assistance. The NATO mission was no longer necessary in what is now a fairly traditional civil war. A focused, limited, and coherent R2P doctrine is the best antidote to the ‘its an internal affair’ siren song used by oppressive states like China or Sudan to prevent outside scrutiny of their illiberalism. Here was an intellectually defensible wedge against using ‘sovereignty’ as all-purpose excuse to brutalize your own people.

Hence, keeping the NATO mission going past necessity was a sure way to tell everyone that R2P is just another name for “regime change,” Bushism, neoconservatism, etc. R2P would lose its focus and look yet again like western imperialism to non-western states.

And that is what we got this week when the UN Security Council voted against sanctions on Syria. The BRICS explicitly noted that Libya’s R2P vote turned into regime change, and that they didn’t vote for that or want that. The more we stay in Libya, the less it looks like R2P and the more it looks like Iraq-light.

No wonder no one trusts us. Despite all of our angst and hand-wringing about Iraq, as soon as we won another war, our neocon, ‘inside every g—, there is an American struggling to get out (video above)’ instinct came roaring back. But all the western victory laps do is undercut R2P as real human rights-protecting mechanism because no one will vote for it in the future, now that they’ve seen Libya. Another opportunity for better global governance squandered by neocon arrogance…

Some Media on the 9/11 Anniversary and Libya


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1. This week I wrote on an op-ed for the local Korean affiliate of the International Herald Tribune. It is based on my two 9/11 posts from last week.

Re-reading it today makes me wonder if I was too tough in calling Afghanistan a ‘quagmire.’ But honestly I don’t think that is an exaggeration anymore. Does anyone really believe we are winning there anymore? I find this as frustrating as anyone else; is there no way to ‘win’ (no, I don’t know what that means either) that wouldn’t keep us there for decades and cost more trillions we don’t have? I just don’t see it anymore, even though I supported the original invasion. Similarly this the most high-profile platform in which I state that I think Iraq 2 was an error. I supported that too until recently, but we killed so many people and disrupted so many lives, for such modest improvement in Iraqi governance, that I just can’t find a way to defend it anymore.

2. I also spoke about Libya on Pusan’s English language radio station, 90.5 FM. (Go here and click on no. 117, for September 5, 2011 show.) Those comments are based on these blog posts. In the last two weeks, I still don’t understand why NATO is staying in Libya anymore. I argued both in print and on the radio that the only way to keep R2P as a legitimate humanitarian intervention doctrine is for the interveners to get out of the way as soon as they are no longer needed to prevent the massacres that brought about the intervention calls to begin with. If the interveners (in this case, NATO) stay in beyond necessity (as is clearly so in Libya now), then R2P increasingly becomes a gimmick for externally-imposed regime change. That casts the R2P debate back into the terms broached by the Iraq invasion – R2P will be read as human right imperialism, American empire, neocolonialism, etc. Please don’t do this!

Libya is an important opportunity to demonstrate the R2P is a limited, non-western intervention doctrine that can hold non-western support, because its based in human rights lessons learned in the Balkans, Rwanda, and Darfur. NATO needs to get out immediately to keep it that way. If we stay in there taking victory laps, Russia, China, and India will never go along with this again. GET OUT NOW.

9/11 a Decade later (2): Flirting with Empire


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Part 1 of this post is here.

Terrorism is the weapon of the weak; terrifying your enemies is a lot less satisfying than actually defeating them. If OBL had an army, no doubt he would have invaded NYC. But terrorists have limited force, so much of their impact depends on how the target responds. Hence, in my previous 9/11 post I argued that the largest change came not from 9/11’s actual material impact, but from the US over-response. The most obvious elements of that would be the freedom-eroding homeland security clampdown, the badly misguided Iraq War, and the catastrophic budgetary consequences of a ‘military,’ rather than law-enforcement response to 9/11. Why GWoT (global war on terror) defenders and Bush partisans are so proud of that last claim strikes me as bizarre given the growing consensus that the GWoT has really lost it way and became much too expensive.

1. The idea that ‘9/11 changed everything’ was a self-fulfilling prophecy made so by America’s (specifically the Bush administration’s) reaction to it. It didn’t need to be this way. Ten year’s out now from 9/11 it should be apparent to everyone how little 9/11 actually changed, except for the changes that we wrought. The mantra ‘9/11 changed everything’ morphed into a blank check. It started as a defensible justification for an assertive foreign policy – on terror, in central Asia – plus better border control (long needed anyway because of out-of-control illegal immigration). But increasingly it turned into a fig leaf for something akin to a barracks state at home and semi-imperialism abroad – the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, rendition, torture, indefinite detention, the Iraq War, exotic and probably illegal drone warfare, spiraling national security spending, etc.

Remember too that in the wake of 9/11 we were told relentlessly how vulnerable we were and how we should expect a progression of attacks against the US. No matter what you think of Michael Moore, he captures well the paranoia and wild over-speculation of this period in Fahrenheit 9/11. My favorite in the film is the Fox News report on pen-bombs. Did we really believe that sort of stuff in 2002ff? I remember teaching international security courses in those years with students writing endless papers about terrorist attacks on dams, bridges, ports, airports, even theme parks. I was at OSU, and we actually debated in class the economic impact on Ohio of barbed wire and armed guard patrols at King’s Island and Cedar Point. One student wrote that we should use nuclear weapons in Iraq; another that we should put SAMs on top of the Sears Tower in Chicago. I remember the students and I gaming out how easy it would be for a few terrorists to attack a shopping mall, based on the Columbine school assault and Sang-Hui Cho’s Virginia Tech massacre. My syllabi from that time describe terrorism as the ‘central national security threat to the US for a generation’ and approvingly cite Rumsfeld’s moniker, ‘the long war.’

Yet none of this happened. There was no wave of attacks. Muslim-Americans did not turn out to be a fifth column as loopy righties like Frank Gaffney or Rod Parsley insisted. For all the vulnerabilities – the easy-to-penetrate border with Mexico, the obese security guards at your local stadium, the hundreds of power plants with minimal security, the terrifying scenarios of 24 or Die Hard 4 - nothing like 9/11, no mega-terror, happened again. Yes, the Bush crowd will argue that that is because of the counter-measures put in place by the Bush administration, but there is no empirical evidence to support that statement and much missing evidence that demolishes it. Specifically, as I argued in the last post, 6M Americans live overseas – soft targets in expat clubs and bars all over the world that are easy targets of opportunity. Yet nothing happened to them. Nor have we yet seen any meaningful, independent study on serious plots foiled by DHS to actually verify that we needed the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo, etc, in order to achieve reasonable security. Perfect security is impossible, and do we really want to try to torture our way to the ‘one percent doctrine’? As early as 2006, we knew this was overblown.

But the bureaucratic incentives for threat inflation are obvious. No one wants to say we can let our guard down, and then have the next attack happen on her watch. So we get one report after another about how we need to harden this or that part of American life; in the end we look likea garrison state. Here is a nice example of how even when a report finds little to worry about, the authors can still encourage more ‘vigilance,’ more money, and more hysteria. Does it even matter anymore to remind people once again that you are more likely to get hit by lightning than die in a terrorist incident?

2. The GWoT turned out to be a spectacular error that probably didn’t do much a far narrower and less hysterical counter-terror (CT) effort could have done. Fairly quickly it turned into a global counterinsurgency that CT advocates have bemoaned ever since as far too expensive, intrusive, and corroding of the US military. As the Atlantic notes, a lot of the martial, ‘kill-em-all,’ Jack Bauer posturing of the early GWoT days not only didn’t work, but in fact backfired.  I agree with the conventional wisdom that Afghanistan was a war of necessity, and Iraq a war of choice. Early I supported both, but it is pretty obvious now that Iraq was not worth it. Far too many people died – mostly Iraqis who’d made no choice to be put in the firing line – to justify the modest improvements in Iraqi governance. On top of that, the US military got badly run-down, America’s global image cratered, and the country went bankrupt.

There is no doubt that Iraq is a better place, but the US forced this on Iraq (unlike in Libya), and we did so in such an inept way (‘fiasco’) that our staggering mis-execution of the whole operation invalidates the arguably defensible principle behind the war. That is, the basic neo-con idea that the Middle East needed a hammer strike to break up the horrible nexus of authoritarianism, religious medievalism, terrorism, oil corruption and social alienation that gave birth to 9/11 is actually a good argument. It may be true, and certainly looked that way ten years ago, long before Arab Spring. So I don’t buy any of this ‘neo-con cabal, they did it for Israel’ schtick. This was supposed to be a demonstration strike against the Arabs to warn them that their local pathologies were morphing into global problems and would no longer be tolerated by the West.

But the execution of that hammer strike in the heart of a dysfunctional ME was so awful, so catastrophically badly managed, that it invalidated the whole premise by suggesting the US is simply incapable of acting properly on that otherwise arguable neo-con logic. And the rhetoric surrounding it, particularly the wild hype of WMD ‘mushroom clouds’ and then Bush’s grandiosely frightening second inaugural, made the US look like a liar and then a revisionist imperialist. This is why I supported the Iraq war until around 2007/08, at which point it became painfully obvious that we had no idea what we were doing there – despite the good arguments for the war – and that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were paying their price of our incompetence. (This is yet another reason why my support of the Libya R2P operation has never endorsed ground forces; it’s just not something we can do.) On of all that, we were morphing into a semi-empire under the globalist pressure of neoconservatism, so a vote for Obama became a necessity.

3. Finally, the GWoT has become ridiculously, astonishingly expensive. This sounds callous, of course. As we remember 9/11, we feel that we should do anything we can to kick these people in the head, and I am as glad as anyone that OBL is dead. But of course there are opportunity costs; there must be. That is how scarce resources, i.e. everyday life, work. The GWoT has contributed substantially to the US budget crisis, which will, connecting the relevant dots in the GOP’s preferred language, leave us ‘less safe’ in the future because we can’t spend the money we may need on security later on. Stiglitz has famously argued that the Iraq conflict will total around $3T when it’s all over. Worse, the Bush administration borrowed to pay for it, and actually cut taxes just as the GWoT’s costs began to spiral. This is inexcusable, and has substantially accelerated the global power shift from the US to China, because it is China that funds much of the US’ debt. By 2020, I guess most Americans will regret that we ever launched the GWoT and chose a ‘military’ path, instead of learning from Britain’s CT struggle with the IRA or Israel’s (earlier) quiet ‘sub-war’ response to Arab terror. It didn’t have to be this way…

Here is part one if you missed it.

9/11 a Decade Later (1): The Apocalypse that Wasn’t…


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Part two of this post is here.

The 9/11 anniversary commentary will be endless, so here are a few I thought were good.

First, a few thoughts on what to avoid:

I am increasingly suspicious of stuff from the mainstream foreign affairs crowd: Council on Foreign Relations, CSIS, Brookings, and (especially) the conservative think-tank set. They are so Washington, predictable, and establishmentarian (because the all want gigs in the next administration of their choice), that you already know what you will read: no suggestion that the 20-year US massive presence in the Gulf infuriates Muslims and Arabs and helped catalyze 9/11; laundry lists of expensive ideas for the US to ‘do more in the region’ rather than to let locals be themselves; little hint that America’s relations with Muslims would improve dramatically if we were more even-handed on the Palestinians; no suggestion that America might have been better off doing much, much less in response to 9/11; full endorsement of the liberal internationalist-neocon position that 9/11 is a once-in-a-generation justification for continuing America’s massive globocop presence after the Cold War; minimal criticism of the massive Bush national security state overkill in response; shameless exploitation of 9/11 to prevent reductions in America’s gargantuan national security budget, etc. Stick with Foreign Policy, the American Review, the Atlantic, Slate or the New Republic (sometimes) for views that at least challenge the status quo and don’t just recycle what Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, and the rest of the DC pundit class will tell you.

Next, avoid the emotional manipulative 9/11 retrospectives. This may sound callous – it was an awful day for everyone, and a truly horrible day for some. But far too often since 9/11, politicians, especially W, played to our emotions from that day, and used and manipulated them to support policy we would almost certainly not have agreed to otherwise, and which we will regret with shame in the future. Here’s the Wall Street Journal telling you that ‘Old Glory’ waved on 9/11 (you’re a patriot and love America, right?), and that’s why they called it the Patriot Act. But then the ACLU and Democrats sabotaged the GWoT, cause they hated W over the Florida recount. So the American left, completely out of power from 2000 to 2006, nonetheless made us ‘less safe’ – for a personal vendetta no less. This is Rovism, wrapped in the flag, but still manipulative and hardball. Further, I have little doubt that, just as we look back today in shame at the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII, we will do the same in 20-30 years when look at how we tortured people in the GWoT. Don’t let torture’s defenders – Yoo, Cheney, Thiessen – emotionally roll you by telling you they stopped the next 9/11 and more grieving widows by ‘legalizing’ waterboarding, ‘walling,’ and generally beating the s— out of people in the name of ‘America.’ Keep your wits (and it ain’t true anyway).

In line with this resistance to inevitable grandstanding, posturing, and macho heroics, my own sense is that 9/11’s importance is wildly over-exaggerated – perhaps because I live in Asia, and I increasingly see the Chinese challenge looming for decades to come. But know this – as just about any American living in Asia can tell you – the Chinese sure are happy that we got lost in the Middle East for a decade.

There are a million possible ‘lessons’ from 9/11, but the big one is actually a non-lesson – 9/11 actually changed very little (beyond the changes we made for ourselves, like Iraq and torture). As early as 2006, we were starting to realize just how much we had over-hyped 9/11. The tectonic plates of international relations change slowly. Al Qaeda could not in fact dent unipolarity. (China can, but that is another story.) The stock market didn’t crash. The US military didn’t suddenly collapse. The actual material loss on 9/11 was ‘only’ about $100B out of a $12T economy, and 2700 people from a citizenry of 300M+. (I don’t intend to sound cold; every life is ontologically unique and valuable. But from a national point of view, these numbers are small. Recall that almost 38,000 Americans died in car accidents in 2001.) 9/11 did not unravel NATO or US alliances. US GDP in the proximate quarters continued to expand. China and Russia did not suddenly become nice or nasty. Bin Laden’s much hoped-for Islamic revolution did not occur (one goal of the attack was to spark a global Muslim revolution with al Qaeda in a leninist ‘vanguard party’ role). The much-predicted ‘wave’ of terrorist attacks and plots against the US did not occur, at home or abroad. (Bush defenders will say this is because Bush improved US security at home, but what about the roughly 6M Americans living outside the US? If there really was a global Islamist conspiracy to kill us, there’d be kidnappings and assassinations of US businessmen, students, and tourists all over Eurasia. It never happened.) In the end, well over 99% of the population went to work the next day; unipolarity rolled on.

In short, from a national power perspective, 9/11 is more like Hurricane Katrina – an awful yet manageable one-time disaster – than Hiroshima – a city-breaking catastrophe that promised to be the first in a pattern leading to national collapse. 9/11 was a sucker-punch – a cheap shot al Qaeda managed to slip in because the US wasn’t paying attention (even though the CIA warned Rice and Bush a month earlier). 9/11 did not galvanize the Muslim world, nor provoke a fiery revolt. And given even reasonable homeland security measures (far less draconian than what we choose), repeat attacks at that magnitude are unlikely. In the end, the real reason 9/11 is seared into everyone’s mind is not its catalyst effect toward a global war or clash of civilizations – it is because it was a surprise attack, and because it targeted civilians.

That we permitted that one-shot sucker-punch to drive into us hysterics, to capture our dark imagination, zealous vengeance, and righteous fury is where 9/11 really changed things. American psychology – perhaps insulated too long from the world by US power and distance from Eurasia’s problems – is what changed, not the world.

Continue to part two.

Libya Lessons (2): NATO is No Longer Necessary – Get Out Now


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Part one of this post is here. Here are a few more lessons to draw:

6. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is, unfortunately, encouraging dictators to dig in instead of scram. The ICC is classic liberal internationalism -a multilateral forum crafted mainly by the liberal democracies for the purpose of spreading international law and taming the ‘anarchy’ of international relations. It looks like a great idea, and indeed the US reticence to it is based on rather specious claims that US soldiers might somehow get hauled before it despite the myriad protections to prevent that from happening. (The real US concern is any constraint on war-making by the Pentagon, and the US obsession with its ‘exceptionalism.’) I support the ICC and wish the US would join.

That said, it is pretty clear that ICC indictments against Gaddafi and sons encouraged them to stay and fight, because flight was impossible. If they can’t flee to a safe haven – because the ICC makes it a sanctionable offense for any state to harbor them – then they have no choice but to stay and slug it out to the bitter end. And indeed, there is a nice rest home for Afro-Middle Eastern despots – autocratic Saudi Arabia. The Saudi took in Idi Amin in 1980 and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Gaddafi would make a nice addition; perhaps he and Ali could reminisce about the good old days, like in some John Hughes movie for dictators. But once the indictments came down, the Gaddafis had nowhere to go, even though they were sending pretty clear signals for awhile that they would exchange an exit for abdication and an end to the conflict.

It seems to met that getting these guys out of power is the most important priority. The ICC, paradoxically, gets in the way. Remember that for awhile there it looked like Gaddafi might win or split the country. No one expected Tripoli to fall so easily. I think it would be a much better outcome to offer these guys just about anything they want to scram. Usually all they want is their family out with them, some cash to keep on with the good life, and immunity from prosecution. That strikes me as a pretty good bargain, even if if thwarts justice. And it is a good precedent for trying to get other autocratic nasties, like the Mugabe and Kim cliques in Zimbabwe and NK, out the way as well without a huge bloodbath.

7. The American president needs to start declaring war again. Libya has all but set in stone the awful, dictatorship-looking, and very unconstitutional practice that the US president can war with minimal Congressional intervention or even approval. The president’s shenanigans around the War Powers Act were disgraceful. Obama made a good case for the war in March and April, and it would have been a good exercise in national deliberation on US warmaking after Iraq to have had a big national and Congressional debate. Instead, Obama – a constitutional lawyer no less! – took the low road; isn’t this one of the reasons we voted for him, and against the Bushist, I-can-do-whatever-I-want GOP?

8. Get NATO out as soon as possible, i.e., right now. The NATO mission, against high odds and great (and deserved) skepticism, helped. Don’t push your luck, and keep the mission as absolutely minimal as necessary. Once Tripoli fell last week, NATO should have withdrawn immediately. The NTC clearly no longer needs NATO assistance. Gaddafi is finished, not matter what his nut-ball sons say on TV. To keep NATO on-mission when it isn’t necessary anymore, only stokes the anger of countries, especially China and Russia, that dislike R2P already. If NATO keeps staying involved, it will indeed look like R2P means ‘regime change’ and not the protection of human rights. NATO’s desire to stay in the game is understandable: this is a nice win for NATO after a decade of GWoT confusion and transatlantic tension, and Libya’s course clearly impacts the southern tier of the NATO states. But those benefits are more than outweighed by the need for limits: the West is broke now, so it should set a precedent of restrained intervention, even when things are going well. Nor do we want anything like Iraq – where the US/West gets pulled deeply into domestic reconstruction by hanging around. The best way to prevent the mission creep everyone worried about in this operation is to end as soon as possible (i.e. in this case, when the NTC would no longer be wiped out in a bloodbath without NATO) and we have clearly reached that point now.

____________

NB: On an unrelated note, you should probably read this, from the foremost proponent of the ‘China threat’ school.

NB2: Last week I argued that the US needs another stimuls. US conservatives and the whole GOP field oppose this. But on Monday the yield on US Treasuries dropped below 2%! That hasn’t happened since the 40s. If that doesn’t tell you the USG should spend, because no else will – i.e., people are so desperate to save, they will even take just 1.98% interest on their savings - then nothing will. But I have no doubt the GOP will trash Obama’s jobs initiative today with no hesitantation. It’s going from bad to worse.

Libya Lessons (1): Don’t Gloat, but Liberal Interventionism did Work


Part 2 of this post will come on Thursday.

There is a lot of commentary, of course, on the war. I think, this, this, and this are a good start. Here are my own thoughts:

1. Can Libya be rolled in with Kosovo 1999, Afghanistan 2001, and France’ recent intervention in Ivory Coast into a winning model for future western interventions in the severe conflict zones? Somalia 1993 is not necessarily a counter-case, because the US went there to distribute aid (ie, nation-build), not to actually intervene militarily with a defined outcome for ‘victory.’

2. NATO pulled itself back from the post-GWoT brink, especially concerning Europe. Libya helps counter-act the growing belief that the Europeans don’t want to fight anymore. But it’s very obvious that Libya – minor country of just 7 million people – pushed NATO coordination to the brink. I remain a supporter of NATO, because it pools liberal democratic force, but Libya was a bullet dodged as much as a success. NATO should not be gloating or cheering, but rather thanking the gods that it all didn’t go horribly wrong.

3. The emergence of NATO a la carte is now entrenched. Some allies simply decided they didn’t want to be involved in Libya – Turkey and Germany specifically. But to avoid an alliance-wide crisis, they didn’t stand in the way either. So NATO countries, including the US (‘leading from behind’, the early shift in command to NATO), dipped in and out, more or less as dictated by their domestic politics. This was presaged by the many conditions placed on the operation of national forces in NATO’s Afghanistan operation in the last decade. Together, this could portend a major, new, de facto (although never admitted) modality in NATO’s use of force. On the one hand, it opens the possibility that other non-NATO members could cooperate more easily (if Germany can drop out, why not invite Mexico or SK in for a mission or two?). But most importantly, a la carte modalities effectively erode the collective security guarantee of Article 5 (that all the NATO members will fight as a unit if any is attacked). So the Eastern Europeans should be pretty terrified right now – maybe Germany or Spain will slack if Russia starts bulllying the Baltics.

4. This should not be a cause for neo-con gloating, or otherwise lead to a renewal of Bush, democratic imperialism, American empire talk, and the rest. The arguments against the campaign were very strong and the reason why most proponents argued for a limited intervention – a thumb on the scale to help the rebels, not an invasion cloaked in overwrought ‘freedom agenda’ rhetoric. My support for the intervention was narrow. NATO was to prevent a bloodbath, but otherwise let the rebels do it themselves. That would encourage local ownership of the results, prevent another Mideast quagmire for western forces, and limit the West’s moral culpability if it all went horribly wrong (as it may still). The obvious comparison is of course Iraq, where we are far more responsible for all the death and chaos of the 2000s. Intellectual defenders of the intervention should realize that we got fairly lucky in Libya, even as we did help shape the course. So hubris is foolish. On the other hand, opponents who discounted the closeness of Libya to NATO (making intervention easier), the close attention to limits (so keeping the intervention cheaper and less bloody for the West), and moral value of Gaddafi’s ouster (the rationale to begin with), really should recognize this. Walt ducks this by saying he never doubted the outcome once the US got involved, even though he argued earlier that we shouldn’t get involved, and the National Interest really should apologize to Samatha Power for its mean-spirited May/June 2011 cover.

5. Keep refining R2P. If Libya had gone wrong, it would have killed liberal interventionism. The West is running out of money for this sort of things, and its publics don’t like it either. The ‘rest’ worry that it is imperialism, and even non-western democracies like India, Japan, and S Korea, quietly reject or won’t sacrifice seriously for R2P. R2P Critics insists on taking an all-or-nothing attitude toward these sorts of operations – that any intervention will become a quagmire like Iraq, so we shouldn’t do it. But to be fair, Libya actually worked out pretty well. The limits on western intervention were maintained; ‘mission creep’ did not happen. The right guys won the war with minimal western assistance. The whole world didn’t have an Iraq-style freak-out over US imperialism. That’s not bad at all for R2P to my mind. But we should be open to the possibility that most R2P operations won’t go as well, but that isn’t a reason for not trying. R2P is so messy and hard, that we should be prepared to accept some level of failure.

The Impact of Arab Spring on North Korea (2): Cleave to China even more


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Part one is here.

This is the second part of a soon-to-be-published quick piece for the Korea National Defense University on Arab Spring and NK. Comments would be appreciated.

4. Find new nuclear clients, perhaps in Asia. It is widely argued that NK’s decision to nuclearize was foolishly expensive for an impoverished country. This might not have been true, as the DPRK has actively proliferated for cash – most notoriously with the AQ Kahn network and Syria. But as old autocratic buyers in the ME fade, pressure will grow to re-coup the expense of NK’s nuclear program elsewhere. Look for NK to probe new proliferation ‘friends,’ including Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Burmese junta, and others; this will test the meaningfulness of the Proliferation Security Initiative.

5. Cleave to China, as the moral cover of fellow autocracies fades. Not only will there be fewer autocracies in the world as a result of Arab Spring, the remaining will be more morally intolerable. For two decades, the ME seemed impenetrable to the post-Cold War spread of liberal democracy seen in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and parts of Africa. Continuing ME dictatorships bolstered the moral ‘normalness’ of NK; if there are many dictatorships in the world, then NK is not especially odious. By contrast, if the world becomes more and more democratic, then non-democracies increasingly stick out. (This is arguably why China informally props up so many other dictatorships.) If this democratization of the ME is genuine, then many of the fellow autocrats who helped NK seem less uniquely awful will disappear, and NK’s isolation will deepen. NK already faces major restrictions on where its nationals and firms may operate. The loss of ‘friends’ like Qaddafi or Assad shrinks this further.

Worse, the debate in the West seems to be genuinely changing on the merits of looking the other way on dictators in the interest of stability. Western elites increasingly recognize the long-term unsustainability and ultimately self-defeating posture of tolerating dictatorships. As Western leaders scramble to get on the right side of history with the Arabs, their moral tolerance of dictatorship elsewhere will decline too. That obviously includes NK. If NATO can bomb for Libyans’ human rights, then why not for Ivorians, Syrians or North Koreans? This is opportune for the Lee Myung-Bak (LMB) administration. LMB’s rejection of the Sunshine Policy and tough line on NK has not been popular in the West. However, changing Western attitudes on the accommodation of dictatorships will likely generate new Western acceptance for LMB’s harder line. Post-Arab Spring, LMB’s rejection of the Sunshine Policy will go down more easily if detente is seen as coddling a dictator similar to Saleh or Assad.

If dealing with dictatorships becomes harder for democratic elites to justify and for democratic publics to accept, then the Six Party Talks are unlikely to resume, and NK will more openly become a Chinese client. It is no surprise Kim Jong Il now visits China regularly; it is all he has left to go to. Post-Arab Spring, the democracies of the Six Parties are even less likely to deal with NK. Losing its autocratic ME friends and unable to meaningfully negotiate with democracies, NK will (d)evolve into a Chinese satellite.

6. Do not give up the nuclear weapons – ever. This most obvious lesson is one Qaddafi, and before him, Saddam Hussein, learned the hard way. The CNN effect can chain-gang the West into places like Kosovo or Libya under R2P, but the West’s casualty tolerance is low. The West will not carry a war solely for human rights if casualties are high, and minimally interventionist air-power is the preferred tool. The easiest way to deter R2P interventions then is weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Libya turned away from its WMD program in 2003, for which it received an implied ‘no regime change’ deal from the Bush administration. The West then reneged on this deal, attacking Qaddafi, just as it was able to attack Hussein, because neither completed their WMD deterrent. Now with NATO insisting on Qaddafi’s ouster (likely resulting in his death at the hands of angry Libyans, as with Mussolini or Ceausescu), NK, especially the Kim family, will be that much less likely to deal on its nuclear program. If NK gives up its program today, it will be more open to democratic pressure and air campaigns tomorrow. Without nukes, one is vulnerable to R2P air interventions, but no democratic public is willing to tolerate a nuclear strike to push regime change. Bombing, yes; nuclear war, no. The lesson of Qaddafi, Slobodan Milosevic, and Hussein is that the West will only blink if you have WMD.

In sum, the overall lesson to NK of Arab Spring is, don’t change at all: permit no foreign reporters (they synergize the CNN effect), give as little information as possible to the NK people (rising expectations from the internet pushed Arab youth into the streets), push China as much as possible (it’s the only option), leave son-gun in place as a bulwark (when in doubt, massacre first, ask questions later). Indeed, this is the lesson of Arab Spring to all the world’s remaining dictatorships, and the worse the regime (Zimbabwe, Syria, NK), the more it applies. Moderately authoritarian states like China or Tunisia can flirt with reform, but for genuinely ferocious systems, like NK, any change risks a huge explosion, because so much social frustration has built up. There is no other way to maintain the state in its current configuration than to clamp down yet more. Sadly, Arab Spring’s liberatory potential in the ME is precisely why its impact in Korea will be a yet deeper freeze.

The Impact of Arab Spring on North Korea (1): When in Doubt, Repress


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Part 2 is here.

The following is a brief analysis of what NK will ‘learn’ from Arab Spring. The good people at the Korea National Defense University asked for a quick, non-jargony write-up. I have previously written for KNDU’s Research in National Security Affairs (RINSA) notes here (no. 70), about NK’s shelling of Yeonpyeong island last year. Northeast Asia security wonks would like RINSA.

Comments would be appreciated, as this will be published in the next few weeks. For my previous writing on Arab Spring, go here.

ABSTRACT

NK will draw six lessons from Arab Spring: 1. Quash protest as quickly as possible. 2. Give the military everything it wants. 3. Return to post-colonial ideology. 4. Find new nuclear proliferation clients. 5. Cleave to China, as the moral cover of fellow autocracies fades. 6. Do not give up the nuclear weapons – ever. In short – dig in your heel, clamp down harder, don’t change.

The Arab Spring revolts present a frightening prospect to any dictatorship. As the world’s most orwellian and repressive – Human Rights Watch has given NK its lowest score for almost forty consecutive years – the DPRK will clearly draw lessons from these events. Six ‘tips’ for NK stand out:

1. Quash protest as quickly as possible. Precisely because the Arab revolts drag on and on, they have held world attention long enough to force a major debate on the premises of Western policy in the Middle East (ME). The longer revolts continue, the harder it becomes for outsiders to ignore them and the louder calls for external intervention become. This ‘CNN effect’ – in which a steady stream of horrific images from conflict or other catastrophe raises hard, increasingly unavoidable moral questions about external intervention – precipitated US pressure on Mubarak, the French turn-around on Tunisia, NATO bombing in Libya, and a possible future intervention in Syria. The best way to keep outsiders out is absolute control. Tiananmen Square (1989), Burma’s Saffron Revolution (2007) and Iran’s Green Revolution (2009) were definitively crushed, while Mubarak tried to negotiate. Chinese overreaction to the proposed ‘jasmine revolution’ is the likely NK response to any civil protest, only yet harsher.

2. Give the military everything it wants. ‘People power’ does not undo dictatorships, splits in the regime, particularly the security services, do. Mubarak lost when the military split over the repression; Yemen and Libya’s rebels have strengthened as the militaries fractured. Son-gun was prescient in its blatant effort to buy off the KPA, even as it bankrupts the DRPK budget.

3. Return to post-colonial ideology. The growing global normative acceptance of the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P), the intellectual justification for external human rights-motivated intervention, narrows NK’s ideological space. R2P, for which even China and Russia voted in the UN, raises the ‘audience costs’ of the NK dictatorship. It posits that a legitimate government must meet a minimum threshold of good behavior toward its own people to preclude external intervention: some governments are so bad, they forfeit the right to rule. To date this has been used to justify interventions in Libya, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia; it also impacted the debate on Darfur, Ivory Coast’s recent internal conflict, and a possible future intervention in Syria. This is an important breach of the long-standing norm of mutual, sovereign non-interference, behind which NK and most dictatorships hide.

No case more clearly meets the R2P benchmark than NK with its man-made famines, concentration camps, and extreme privation. The DPRK needs an intellectual response to this challenge, and anti-colonial nationalism is a good choice. Decolonization stirs strong feelings in the global South, the region most likely to confront R2P-motivated interventions. Qaddafi portrays the NATO bombing campaign as Western neocolonialism, with good effect in the African Union, which has repeatedly called for a NATO halt. A vigorous argument to global public opinion that SK is a US puppet bent on globalist exploitation of the peninsula would be a persuasive postcolonial counter to the ‘human rights imperialism’ critics fear in R2P. Further, ideological committed security forces, like Iran’s Basij, are less likely to split with the regime, so propagandizing the KPA complements ‘tip’ 2 above.

Continue to Part 2.

Think You Can Do Grand Strategy in Asia? (It’s Really Hard Actually…)


 

Regular readers will know that I part-time consult for a geopolitical consulting firm called Wikistrat, and this competition is a cool idea, especially for the IR types who likely read a blog like this. Graduate students especially should sign up for it. (And if you think you can hack it as an analyst, and you have some decent credentials, contact them. Good analysts are always in demand.)

It’s great practice for big thinking, as if you’re Clausewitz or Spykman or something, but always remember the well-know adage: “Amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics.” Before you argue that China should fix Africa or the US should fix the Middle East, remember to figure out how to pay for it, and to plan your way to that outcome (i.e., avoid America’s mistakes in Iraq). For my own version of US grand strategy in Asia, read this.

I will be a supporting judge in the competition too, so please bring your good ideas so that I can repackage them as my own. Anyway, give it a spin; the blurb is below:

“Wikistrat is gearing up for an exciting International Grand Strategy Competition.

Select teams representing leading academic institutions from around the world are invited to participate in the first ever wiki-based grand strategy competition. Managed by Dr. Thomas PM Barnett, this competition will provide participants with the opportunity to test their skills with global counterparts and network within that community. Participants can demonstrate their capacity for strategic thought to agencies, institutions and firms seeking to recruit up-and-coming analytic talent.

We are currently reviewing applications by groups representing top Universities and Think Tanks worldwide. There are still open spots available for this exciting event.

To nominate a team, or to see if you institute has been invited, contact us HERE.

Participation is free, and winner team will get a $10,000 prize.

Some of the issues we will cover in the Competition include (Download the full PDF OUTLINE):

1. Global Energy Security

2. Global Economic “Rebalancing” Process

3. Salafi Jihadist Terrorism

4. Inevitable Sino-American Special Relationship

5. Southwest Asia Nuclear Proliferation

Some of the Scenarios explored will include:

1. Major Biological Terror Attack

2. “2.0 Revolutions” in Arab World

3. + Additional Surprise Shocks”

Does it Make Humanitarian Sense to Let Libyans Fight it Out Alone?


libya-war

Regular readers know that I supported the Libyan intervention primarily on humanitarian grounds. For my writing on Libya, please try here and here. My big concern was that the fall of Benghazi might initiate a massacre like Srebrenica. If a limited intervention could forestall that, I think it was justifiable. To critics who said this was duplicitous, because we did not intervene in Ivory Coast or Syria, my response was that Libya moved first (its problems were presented earlier), which matters in a world of scarce resources with limited knowledge of the future. Also, Libya was proximate to NATO making it that much easier and so more morally compelling. This is hardly an air-tight case; Libyan lives are no more ontologically valuable than Syrian or Ivorian. But there are limits to what outsiders can do; and I thought Libya pretty well met the nexus of limited western capabilities – badly restricted by American military overstretch and degraded European militaries – and the clear humanitarian imperative raised when Gaddafi and sons started ranting about ‘rivers of blood’ and ‘hunting the rebels like rats, alley by alley.’ Non-interventionists retort that a massacre was not actually likely, but I disagree with that assessment.

A much stronger argument raised by non-interventionists directly challenges the humanitarian rationale. This argues that civil wars that stalemate, as Libya’s has now, actually produce more death and destruction over time than quick, definitive endings. I don’t have any particularly good cite on this, but generally I find that Max Hastings at the Financial Times, Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy, and various authors at the National Interest have leaned in this direction on Libya. In passing, I should say that I find all these authors to raise excellent points. Their analysis is worth your time and vastly more professional and serious than the partisan and uniformed commentary coming from Congress and the GOP presidential field. If you want to know why Libya is a mistake, read Walt or Hastings; don’t waste your time with FoxNews or Newt Gingrich.

So if the Libyan civil war drags on for years, with hundreds of thousands killed, does that mean it would have been better for Gaddafi to win early, and ‘only’ kill ten thousand? This strikes me as quite strong (and humane, albeit macabre) logic. Here are three possible responses:

1. Any comparative body counts (yes, it is that ghoulish to say so, but this is what murderous thugs force on us) must account for all the violence Gaddafi would also inflict on Libyans in the wake of his victory and restoration of the old order. In other words, it is not enough to say that Gaddafi would kill fewer than the civil war would, therefore his victory is better, because Gaddafi would end up killing many more in the future, presumably, in order to re-bolster his police state. These future murders and persecutions must be included with the casualties of a Benghazi massacre on the interventionist side of the ledger.

2. At the time of intervention (mid-March), it was not possible to seriously predict that the civil war would drag on. Indeed, even now, no one really knows how long this will go. Gaddafi could fold at any time; defections keep happening; the rebels do seem to be, slowly, clawing back. Even Walt agrees that Gaddafi is probably on his way out. This lowers the probability of a much higher body count from a civil war, because we don’t really know how long it will, in fact, last. On the hand, the probability was pretty high that a Gaddafi victory in Benghazi would lead to a massacre.

In the end, the only way to definitively know is post-hoc, which means we must estimate at the pre-hoc time of decision. We can only say if the intervention was humanitarianly beneficial after the war ends. If it does take 5 years and 250,000 dead, we will then look back in 5 years and concur that it was an error. If it ends next week, we won’t. By way of example, look at our thinking on Iraq 2. In 2003, the Bush people promised a blitzkreig like Desert Storm. We were to be liberators with a quick ‘mission accomplished’ and home by Christmas. Like many, I (foolishly) believed this narrative also and supported the Iraq War. In retrospect, this was a terrible error for which I feel ashamed and for which students regularly criticize me, but I (and many others) only knew that clearly by, say, 2005/06. (How Bush can still say he would do it all over again is just beyond me.)

Like so many, I thought the Bush people had actually planned something for Iraq after the victory, especially given that it was a war of choice with lots of time to plan and think. And indeed, if Iraq 2 had gone as Iraq 1, Bush 2 would be hailed as one of America’s great presidents. Unfortunately, decisions can’t be made with full information at the time, and looming massacre in Benghazi forced a rapid decision on Obama. This is the real distinction between Obama’s Libya forced intervention decision and Bush’s Iraq war of choice. Obama had little time to prepare, and so inevitably the operation is clunky and rushed; Bush, by contrast, had months of time to plan Iraq and its aftermath (plus the years spent on the Future of Iraq Project) and clearly didn’t do it. This is why I reject Walt’s comparisons of the Libyan war to Iraq 2.

So Obama had to make the best choice at the time and with time pressing dramatically. And while it is true that Iraq should have served as a cautionary against charging in, it is also true that Bosnia and Rwanda should have served as a cautionary against doing nothing and that Kosovo presented a possible model for how NATO airpower could help tip the local balance. The analysis, because it must be predictive, is messy and imprecise, and if Libya becomes Iraq 2, we will all be chastened as we were after Iraq 2 turned into a bloodbath. But remember that we were also all chastened after Rwanda also turned into a bloodbath. We felt ashamed we did nothing and promised to try harder the next time. This is that next time.

3. Finally, I am not sure how much I buy it that quickly resolved civil wars are in fact for the best. This post was motivated by this story at the Economist on the end of the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a good parallel with Libya, because it was a civil war that dragged on endlessly, killing thousands over decades and regularly debilitating Sri Lanka’s ability to develop and normalize. I think this is why everyone looked away as the Singhalese army basically wiped out the Tamils with inevitable end-massacre. Everyone just wanted it to end, and this seemed like the final closure the world wanted on an awful, endless problem that know one really knew how to resolve. One victor, completely triumphant and imposing a peace that might eventually mature, seemed better than years and years further of more of the awful same. James Fearon’s work on civil wars suggests this too: the best way to end them is a definitive victory by one side or the other. The American civil war would be a case in point, and definitive end of secession was clearly behind Lincoln’s tacit endorsement of Sherman’s scorched earth policy in the South. The Singhalese provided such an end in Sri Lanka, and NATO intervention probably stopped this outcome in Libya.

But note also the extraordinary cost the Economist notes of the Singhalese victory. Does anyone really feel comfortable advocating that? If tens of thousands of guaranteed Libyan deaths prevent possible hundreds of thousands of future Libyan deaths, how does one possibly morally choose among those alternatives? Who wants to say to the residents of Benghazi (or the Tamils), you must die for the ‘greater good’ of society? There are examples of fragile peace between the sides of a civil conflict (Bosnia today, or Cyprus) that manage to avoid the ‘eliminationist’ logic that one side needs to win in order to finally stop the killing. And who wants to make such an awful, unbelievably cold-blooded decision? Who could sleep at night endorsing this? Bill Clinton cannot.