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Power User
Posts: 34485

« Reply #650 on: August 02, 2015, 08:49:53 PM »

 Balancing Hopes and Fears in the Middle East
Global Affairs
July 29, 2015 | 08:00 GMT
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By Philip Bobbitt

It's encouraging that reports from Washington suggest the administration has settled on a new strategy for confronting the Islamic State. Our reluctance to commit to a strategy as we sought, unsuccessfully, to find a middle ground that would minimize risks while serving contradictory objectives has been costly to the stability of Iraq and to our goal of removing Bashar al Assad's regime from Syria.

Sometimes it is less appealing to confront one enemy than to avoid advantaging another enemy. Thus England tolerated the rise of Nazi Germany, a growing threat, rather than confront it to the advantage of Bolshevism. In the Middle East, the example is quite exquisite because the phenomenon is double-sided: We cannot truly commit ourselves to the removal of al Assad because we believe his ruin will offer rich opportunities to the Islamic State, and we are equally reluctant to take some aggressive measures against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria because we surmise our success would mean further empowering Iran and increasing Tehran's influence in Baghdad and Damascus. We are paralyzed because we prefer foregoing potential but significant gains to enduring certain losses whose significance is no greater.

I suppose this a kind of strategic "loss aversion." Many studies in behavioral economics have confirmed that a consistent majority of people would rather forego a gain than suffer a loss, even when the outcomes are statistically indistinguishable. For example, psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of subjects would prefer to avoid a $1.00 surcharge rather than receive a $1.00 discount. Moreover, subjects routinely report that they would rather accept a 50 percent chance of losing $2.00 than a certain loss of $1.00. Similarly, perhaps, states are reluctant to risk giving an uncertain advantage to an enemy, even if inaction means certain gain for another enemy. This irrationality is of more than academic interest when we actually forego potential gains that would exceed our losses.

But, one may object, this can be no more than a metaphor — states don't have "psychologies." Yet their leaders do, and they may identify the wins and losses of the state with their own. Wars fought to defend the national honor may have such a basis (as well as, of course, having practical bargaining effects).

What is Global Affairs?

Then one may object that nothing is lost by inaction because states possessed nothing of materiality. Here the answer is: hope. Some of Samuel Johnson's most acute — and disturbing — insights about human nature occur in his remarks on hope. "Hope," he wrote, "is happiness and its frustration, however frequent, are less dreadful than its extinction." Giving up something is giving up hope, which is much more costly than foregoing a receipt.

This paralysis is nevertheless approvingly encouraged by the counsels of inaction whenever the available options are fraught. "Don't just do something, stand there!" may be one way of characterizing this advice. By avoiding action, at least we avoid making things worse. But this ignores the fact that things may get worse without our help, and indeed inaction may be more costly to our interests because we have not been able to mitigate our losses through action. It may even be the case that the wrong decision — a decision in favor of a course of action that leaves us less well off than we would have been, had we acted otherwise — might still be better for us than inaction. That is often the case where the costs of inaction to the strength of our alliances outweigh the immediate costs of acting. It's often said that our alliance partners do not accord their relations with us more weight when we act recklessly, and that is doubtless true. But on whom would you rely in a crisis: the partner who comes to your aid even when, in the short term, it may not be in his interest, or the partner who carefully weighs the benefits of each action?

This is tricky; after all, didn't the arguments that a withdrawal from Vietnam would undermine our European alliances keep us in South Asia long past a sensible departure date? And how do we measure such imponderables? How does a "gain" for an increasingly assertive Iran measure against a "loss" to the deadly Islamic State?

This example of the phenomenon of "loss aversion" — perhaps it is best thought of as a metaphor rather than as a matter of microeconomic analysis — is also manifesting itself in the debate over the proposed agreement with Iran to restrict its nuclear capabilities. We are rightly concerned that an infusion of more than $50 billion will strengthen the theocratic state in Tehran and find its way into the forces of terror that the Iranian regime has so notably deployed. We are loath to give up a sanctions regime that has been a quite remarkable achievement in its breadth and coherence. Many thoughtful critics would rather forego the conceded benefits of a 15-year hiatus in Iran's nuclear development than lose a sanctions program that restricts so many of the regime's other activities. Alas, we cannot depend upon the endurance of the existing sanctions, and should the treaty fail to be enacted, we are likely to reap the worst of both worlds: an unrestricted program of nuclear development by an Iranian state that has been greatly enriched by the removal of those sanctions that the United States does not control. And here, too, the neglect of the impact on our alliances that is a feature of loss aversion in other contexts could well prove to be the greatest cost of all. By contrast, in the aftermath of the Iran agreement, restoring confidence in their relations with the United States is the first item on our agendas with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states.

Here, we must depart from the Great Cham, Dr. Johnson. For he warned us to "remember that we only talk of the pleasures of hope; we feel those of possession, and no man in his senses would change the last for the first."
Power User
Posts: 34485

« Reply #651 on: August 12, 2015, 11:49:28 AM »

 Principle vs. Practice: The Unsettled Debate of Geopolitics
Global Affairs
August 12, 2015 | 08:00 GMT

By Ian Morris

In July, I did something a bit unusual, checking in to the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas so that I could take part in a public debate on war. The occasion was FreedomFest, a libertarian extravaganza that bills itself as "the world's largest gathering of free minds." (More than 2,500 people attended.)

I wasn't completely sure what to expect, but in the end the event exceeded my every expectation. It wasn't just lively, engaged and genuinely open to ideas from all sides, but also full of the frankly bizarre touches that libertarians and Las Vegas both seem to delight in. On my way to see the left-leaning, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman debate the conservative Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore, I could (and did) stop off in the exhibit hall to buy a Milton Friedman T-shirt and fill my pockets with little tubes of sunscreen proudly labeled "Tea Party Patriot." I saw Grover Norquist, the infamous anti-tax crusader, being interviewed in front of an ad for a strip club; Donald Trump was the headline speaker.

But in addition to being a lot of fun, FreedomFest also forced me to think harder about a serious question.

I had been invited to FreedomFest because I published a book in 2014 called War! What is it Good For? This was an unapologetically realpolitik review of the history of violence across the past 20,000 years, arguing that over the very long term, war has had two big unintended consequences. First, it has been the main method through which people have created bigger societies with more effective governments. Second, the most important activity these governments have engaged in has been to suppress all use of force that they do not themselves sanction. Wars have become bigger and fiercer, but governments have pacified their own populations, with the net result that rates of violent death have slowly declined. If you had lived 10,000 years ago in the Stone Age, you would have stood a 10-20 percent chance of dying violently. Those of us who lived in the 20th century, by contrast — despite the century's two world wars, use of nuclear weapons and multiple genocides — stood just a 1-2 percent chance of dying violently. In the 21st century, that risk has fallen to just 0.7 percent. In effect, war has been putting itself out of business through the mechanism of government. On average, a person alive today is 10 times less likely to die violently than someone who lived in 10,000 B.C.

The decline in rates of violent death has accelerated in the past 200 years, but not, I argued, because we have all become saints. Rather, the world has become safer because it has progressed from conventional governments, exercising political control within recognized borders, to what we might call "globocops," states that have truly worldwide reach. Neither of the two globocops the world has seen so far — Britain in the 19th century and the United States since 1989 — has run a world empire, but neither has needed to; rather, a globocop just needs to raise the costs and lower the benefits of using force to upset the status quo, deterring other governments from doing so.

What is Global Affairs?

For a good 75 years after 1815, Britain played a major part in making sure that the world (and especially Europe) saw far fewer major wars than at any time since the height of the Roman Empire. However, Britain's defense of international free trade made it almost inevitable that other countries would industrialize and grow rich, undermining the globocop's ability to do its job. The further this process went, the greater the risks grew, not only that some power would take a chance on solving its problems with violence, but also that such a gamble might set off a general conflagration. The outcome was the 75-year struggle between 1914 and 1989, which swept away the crumbling British global order and eventually replaced it with a new American version. Since then, the United States has played a major part in making major wars even less common than they were in the 19th century.

The lesson of history, I concluded, is that if you want peace, you should do whatever you can to help preserve the current American-dominated system (or empire, if you prefer that word).

Making this case to a roomful of libertarians was, needless to say, something of a red-rag-to-a-bull experience, and I was none too surprised when the voice of the people told me that I had lost the debate. (Although, I am pleased to say, I did swing enough of the listeners to reduce the initial 2:1 vote against me to a wafer-thin majority.) The debate itself, however, raised a series of issues that I felt I had not thought about enough.

Since my book appeared, I have debated its thesis on several occasions. Sometimes the criticisms focus on details (whether we really know how violent prehistoric societies were, what Roman rule really meant for Britain, what British rule really meant for India, etc.). More often, though, they come down to what I heard a former Palestinian Authority negotiator, Zihad abu Zihad, refer to in Jerusalem during the most recent Gaza war as "the dead baby argument." Israel would inevitably lose the struggle for international support, he argued, because the more lucidly its representatives spoke about strategic imperatives, the right to self defense, or global terrorism, the more insistently Palestinian representatives would show pictures of dead babies. Global strategy cannot compete with moral outrage; Israel therefore loses.

In Las Vegas, I was relieved to find that my opponent, Angela Keaton of, did not rely on the dead baby argument. However, she got to a very similar place by a different route. Freedom, she argued, is the ultimate human value, which means that American governments are morally wrong to create a monopoly on legitimate violence and then use it to compel the people under its jurisdiction to pay taxes (effectively making them state-owned slaves for part of each working day). It is also wrong to use these tax revenues to pay for its monopoly on force, more wrong still to lure people who lack alternative employment into its armed forces, and most wrong of all to use these armed forces to coerce people in other countries. Even if the end result of government action really is less war (a point Keaton was not willing to concede), all these wrongs can never add up to a right.

It seems to me that the dead baby and freedom arguments are two versions of a single claim: Ethics trump strategy. Moralizing arguments of this kind have a visceral appeal all across the political spectrum, but they seem to run directly counter to the amoral emphasis that Stratfor puts on geopolitics, economics and unintended consequences. Our debate at FreedomFest, I realized, was not really about the past and future of war at all; it was about two apparently incompatible visions of how the world works. In the rather charged atmosphere of Planet Hollywood, it was hard not to feel that one of the biggest questions of the 21st century would be which of these visions would win out in America.

In practice, however, policymakers rarely take either of these ideas to its logical extreme, if only because electorates tend to cling to a commonsense utilitarianism. Whenever winning an argument looks likely to leave us worse off, most people prefer to fudge the issues. Even the most Kissingerian of geopoliticians tend to recognize that values have a place in strategy (a good subject for a future column, perhaps) and that it is usually a mistake to sell out allies or walk away from deeply held beliefs to win a small advantage.

Similarly, libertarians who reject government completely turn into anarchists, and consequently most libertarians instead take positions like that defended by the philosopher Robert Nozick. In his influential 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick conceded that there are vital jobs that only a government can do. However, he said, "only a minimal state, limited to enforcing contracts and protecting people against force, theft and fraud, is justified. Any more extensive state violates persons' rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified."

The result is that the great debate between principles tends, in practice, to fragment into multiple smaller and more pragmatic questions. If government is at best a necessary evil, where is the best balance between having too much of it and not having enough? If using force is always wrong, how do we tell whether failing to use it will nevertheless turn out even worse? And how do we justify cutting moral corners in the name of the greater good?

Whether the issue at hand is the Trans-Pacific Partnership or a nuclear deal with Iran, the answers are never obvious; the most productive places to look for them are in geopolitical details and the lessons we can draw from history. This, I think, is something that all sides must in the end agree on. It is also the main reason why, whatever our political inclinations, we should be confident that Stratfor is on the side of the angels after all.
Power User
Posts: 6774

« Reply #652 on: August 24, 2015, 01:27:11 PM »

When natural gas prices were high and supplies were scarce, Russia had Europe under its thumb. 

When oil prices were high and American supplies were scarce, Venezuela and others had a hold on America.  And Iran had the world scared sh*tless over its proximity to the Straits of Hormuz.  Does anyone remember that?

When Venezuela and Russia were gushing with oil money, puny little Cuba could stick its finger in the US eye.  Didn't need the US for anything.

When economic growth here was going gangbusters, China was a big beneficiary of that and had a level of control over our economy.

And when the Euro was stronger than the dollar, the EU had leverage in various negotiations over the US.

Now the facts are reversed.  So, a) what are we doing to capitalize on the changing balance of forces around the world?  Nothing, of course.  And b) What could we and what SHOULD we be doing differently in response to these changing circumstances?

Other than the fact that we don't have a President who would even want any of the problems around the world resolved,

Why don't we turn the heat up on Russia's presence in the Ukraine - right while oil prices dip below 40?

Why aren't we tightening instead of loosening sanctions in Iran while they feel the pressure?

Why don't we make public demands on Cuba to do SOMETHING to free their people?  Why don't we reach out with the freedom seeking opposition in Venezuela [and elsewhere] and amplify their voices?

Why don't we make a rescue mission into a portion N.K. while the Chinese attention is turned elsewhere, and shrink their evil dictatorship?

Why don't we reach out to India as a natural ally, a peaceful democracy with similar interests, beyond having them over once in 8 years for dinner?

What else should we be doing while the future of the world lies in the balance?

Even Rahm Emmanuel knew to never let a good crisis go to waste.  Did that axiom apply only to political advantage over the Republicans - or could you use it to strengthen our geopolitical position against adversaries?
Power User
Posts: 12776

« Reply #653 on: August 24, 2015, 02:19:53 PM »

The only enemies the dems see is republican
Power User
Posts: 34485

« Reply #654 on: September 08, 2015, 06:42:13 AM »

This was supposed to be the Era of No Fences. No walls between blocs. No borders between countries. No barriers to trade. Visa-free tourism. The single market. A global Internet. Frictionless transactions and seamless exchanges.

In short, a flat world. Whatever happened to that?

In the early 1990s, Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres published a book called “The New Middle East,” in which he predicted what was soon to be in store for his neighborhood. “Regional common markets reflect the new Zeitgeist,” he gushed. It was only a matter of time before it would become true in his part of the world, too.

I read the book in college, and while it struck me as far-fetched it didn’t seem altogether crazy. The decade from 1989 to 1999 was an age of political, economic, social and technological miracles. The Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union dissolved. Apartheid ended. The euro and Nafta were born. The first Internet browser was introduced. Oil dropped below $10 a barrel, the Dow topped 10,000, Times Square became safe again. America won a war in Kosovo without losing a single man in combat.

Would Israeli businessmen soon be selling hummus and pita to quality-conscious consumers in Damascus? Well, why not?

Contrast this promised utopia with the mind-boggling scenes of tens of thousands of Middle East migrants, marching up the roads and railways of Europe, headed for their German promised land. The images seem like a 21st-century version of the Völkerwanderung, the migration of nations in the late Roman and early Medieval periods. Desperate people, needing a place to go, sweeping a broad landscape like an unchanneled flood.

How did this happen? We mistook a holiday from history for the end of it. We built a fenceless world on the wrong set of assumptions about the future. We wanted a new liberal order—one with a lot of liberalism and not a lot of order. We wanted to be a generous civilization without doing the things required to be a prosperous one.

In 2003 the political theorist Robert Kagan wrote a thoughtful book, “Of Paradise and Power,” in which he took stock of the philosophical divide between Americans and Europeans. Americans, he wrote, inhabited the world of Thomas Hobbes, in which “true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.”

Europeans, by contrast, lived in the world of Immanuel Kant, in which “perpetual peace” was guaranteed by a set of cultural conventions, consensually agreed rules and a belief in the virtues of social solidarity overseen by a redistributive state.

These differences didn’t matter much as long as they were confined to panel discussions at Davos. Then came the presidency of Barack Obama, which has adopted the Kantian view. For seven years, the U.S. and Europe have largely been on the same side—the European side—of most of the big issues, especially in the Mideast: getting out of Iraq, drawing down in Afghanistan, lightly intervening in Libya, staying out of Syria, making up with Iran.

The result is our metastasizing global disorder. It’s only going to get worse. The graciousness that Germans have shown the first wave of refugees is a tribute to the country’s sense of humanity and history. But just as the warm welcome is destined to create an irresistible magnet for future migrants, it is also bound to lead to a backlash among Germans.

This year, some 800,000 newcomers are expected in Germany—about 1% of the country’s population. Berlin wants an EU-wide quota system to divvy up the influx, but once the migrants are in Europe they are free to go wherever the jobs and opportunities may be. Germany (with 4.7% unemployment) is going to be a bigger draw than France (10.4%), to say nothing of Italy (12%) or Spain (22%).

If Germany had robust economic and demographic growth, it could absorb and assimilate the influx. It doesn’t, so it can’t. Growth has averaged 0.31% a year since 1991. The country has the world’s lowest birthrate. Tolerant modern Germany now looks with justified disdain toward the petty nationalism, burden-shifting and fence-building of the populist Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán. But it would be foolish to think of Hungary as a political throwback rather than as a harbinger. There is no such thing as a lesson from the past that people won’t ignore for the sake of the convenience of the present.

Is there a way out? Suddenly, there’s talk in Europe about using military power to establish safe zones in Syria to contain the exodus of refugees. If U.S. administrations decide on adopting Kant, Europe, even Germany, may have no choice but to reacquaint itself with Hobbes by rebuilding its military and using hard power against unraveling neighbors.

Europeans will not easily embrace that option. The alternative is to hasten the return to the era of fences. Openness is a virtue purchased through strength.

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kenneth coates
kenneth coates 1 minute ago

Obama is a man of zero courage. . To Obama it's much easier to just let human nature evolve in whatever fashion and at whatever level of violence. Unfortunately, other leaders both local and global also subscribed to this cowardly strategy.
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Justin Murray
Justin Murray 5 minutes ago

You might want to check your history closer. We didn't stay out of Syria, it was a Cold War style intervention of arming proxy groups. That's why it was a disaster - we intervened.
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Morry Rotenberg
Morry Rotenberg 7 minutes ago

The fundamental transformation of not only this country but the rest of the world is progressing as promised by our community organizer in chief. Unless the so called opposition party, aka Republicans get a spine and some intelligent leadership there is little hope not only for us but the rest of the previously called free world.
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Power User
Posts: 34485

« Reply #655 on: September 08, 2015, 06:46:30 AM »

second post

    Review & Outlook

The West’s Refugee Crisis
What happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East.

The photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who drowned trying to flee to Greece with his brother and mother, has focused the world on Europe’s Middle Eastern refugee crisis. Demands for compassion are easy, but it’s also important to understand how Europe—and the U.S.—got here. This is what the world looks like when the West abandons its responsibility to maintain world order.

The refugees are fleeing horror shows across North Africa and the Middle East, but especially the Syrian civil war that is now into its fifth year. Committed to withdrawing from the region, President Obama chose to do almost nothing. Europe, which has a longer Middle Eastern history than America and is closer, chose not to fill the U.S. vacuum.

The result has been the worst human catastrophe of the 21st-century. What began as an Arab Spring uprising against Bashar Assad has become a civil war that grows ever-more virulent. Radical Islamic factions have multiplied and Islamic State found a haven from which to grow and expand. More than 210,000 Syrians have been killed, and millions have been displaced inside the country or in camps in neighboring countries.

The conceit has been that while all of this is tragic, the Middle East has to work out its own pathologies and what happens there will be contained there. But by now we know that what happens in Damascus doesn’t stay in Damascus. First came the terrorist exports, recruited by Islamic State and sent back to bomb and murder in Paris and on trains. Now come the refugees, willing to risk their lives fleeing chaos on the chance of a safe haven in Europe.

The lesson is that while intervention has risks, so does abdication. The difference is that at least intervention gives the West the opportunity to shape events, often for the better, rather than merely cope with the consequences of doing nothing. As difficult as the war in Iraq was, by 2008 the insurgency was defeated and Iraqis were returning to Baghdad. Only after Mr. Obama withdrew entirely from Iraq and ignored Syria did Iraq deteriorate again and Islamic State advance.

Europeans who dislike an America they think is overbearing should note what happens when the world’s policeman decides to take a vacation and let the neighbors fend for themselves. In the modern world of instant communications and easy transportation, the world’s problems will wash up on the wealthy West’s shores one way or another. If Europe isn’t prepared to handle nearby crises, militarily if necessary, be prepared to accept the refugees.

On that latter point, Europeans are by and large generous people who want to help refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown leadership in accepting refugees in her country and trying to work out a plan to propose a quota system for the rest of Europe to apportion the asylum claims now besieging the front-line states of Greece, Hungary and Italy. Germany is expected to take 800,000 this year.

Aylan Kurdi’s death might also finally shame more governments into action. Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday announced Britain is abandoning its refusal to bear a heavier load and will accept “thousands” more refugees, most directly from camps on Syria’s borders. One good idea would be to open processing centers closer to where the refugees start their journeys. But without a clear commitment from states to accept more, the temptation of asylum seekers to resort to human traffickers will remain great.

Yet it’s also true that years of bad economic and fiscal policy mean that Europe is now far less able to cope with refugees than many assume. Europe is unable to police its maritime borders effectively, which is why so many human smugglers are using Mediterranean routes. That’s a function of its long-term underinvestment in naval and coast-guard assets. Collective European spending on defense amounted to some $250 billion in 2014, a $7 billion decline from a year earlier, and it’s going down year after year.

Absorbing refugees also requires a robust economy that Europe hasn’t had in years. Most refugees want to go to Germany, but even Germany is growing at a mere 1.6% annual rate. Unemployment looks low (4.7%) but the labor force participation rate is very low, about 60%, according to World Bank figures. For the rest of Europe, the ability to absorb a refugee influx is even worse.

Without economic reform to produce a growth economy, migration on the current scale is going to strain Europe’s welfare state and further encourage the rise of extreme anti-immigration parties like the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary and the Pegida movement in Germany. It will also begin to threaten such pillars of the modern European Union as its Schengen policy that allows passport-free travel and migration. Schengen has been a crucial economic safety valve that allows young people in particular to move for economic opportunity when their native country is in recession.

All of which underscores that the migration crisis is far more than a humanitarian issue. By all means Europe needs to do more to end the immediate human suffering. So does the U.S., which could in particular accept Syrian Christians who are targeted for extinction by Islamists.

But the larger problem is the retreat by Europe and America from promoting, and if necessary enforcing, a world order built on Western ideals. The migration crisis shows that this failure will eventually compromise Western ideals at home as well as abroad.
Power User
Posts: 816

« Reply #656 on: September 09, 2015, 10:00:54 PM »


"You have enemies?  Good.  That means that you have stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Winston Churchill.
Power User
Posts: 34485

« Reply #657 on: September 10, 2015, 10:17:10 AM »

Garry Kasparov
Sept. 9, 2015 7:30 p.m. ET

A quick glance at the latest headlines suggests a jarring disconnect from the stream of foreign-policy successes touted by the Obama White House and its allies. President Obama has been hailed by many as a peacemaker for eschewing the use of military force and for signing accords with several of America’s worst enemies. The idea that things will work out better if the U.S. declines to act in the world also obeys Mr. Obama’s keen political instincts. A perpetual campaigner in office, he realizes that it is much harder to criticize an act not taken.

But what is good for Mr. Obama’s media coverage is not necessarily good for America or the world. From the unceasing violence in eastern Ukraine to the thousands of Syrian refugees streaming into Europe, it is clear that inaction can also have terrible consequences. The nuclear agreement with Iran is also likely to have disastrous and far-reaching effects. But in every case of Mr. Obama’s timidity and procrastination, the response to criticism amounts to this: It could have been worse.

Looking at the wreckage of the Middle East, including the flourishing of Islamic State, it takes great imagination to see how things would be worse today if the U.S. had acted on Mr. Obama’s “red line” threat in 2013 and moved against Syria’s Bashar Assad after he defied the U.S. president and used chemical weapons.

Or farther east, one would need to have believed Moscow’s overheated nuclear threats to think that Ukraine would be worse off now if NATO had moved immediately to secure the Ukrainian border with Russia as soon as Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea in 2014.

Over the past year, especially in the past few months, Mr. Obama’s belief that American force in the world should be constrained and reduced has reached its ultimate manifestation in U.S. relations with Iran, Russia and Cuba. Each of these American adversaries has been on the receiving end of the president’s helping hand: normalization with Cuba, releasing Iran from sanctions, treating the Putin Ukraine-invasion force as a partner for peace in the futile Minsk cease-fire agreements.

In exchange for giving up precisely nothing, these countries have been rewarded with the international legitimacy and domestic credibility dictatorships crave—along with more-concrete economic benefits.

When dealing with a regime that won’t negotiate in good faith, the best approach is to use a position of strength to pry concessions from the other side. But instead the White House keeps offering concessions—while helping its enemies off the mat. That such naïveté will result in positive behavior from the likes of Ayatollah Khamenei, Vladimir Putin and the Castro brothers should be beyond even Mr. Obama’s belief in hope and change.

Dictatorships, especially the one-man variety like Russia’s, are unpredictable, but they do operate on logical underlying principles. They often come to power with popular support and a mandate to solve a crisis. Once a firm grip on power is achieved, the junta or supreme leader blames his predecessors for any problems, and he cracks down on rights. With democracy dead and civil society hunted to extinction, the only way left to make a legitimate claim on power is confrontation and conflict. Propaganda is ratcheted up against mythical fifth columnists and the usual scapegoats, like immigrants and minorities.

The next and usually final phase arrives when other tricks have become stale. Domestic enemies are never threatening enough—and eventually there is no one left to persecute, as in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin—so the dictator looks abroad, inevitably finding a “national interest” to defend across a convenient border.

This external-conflict phase is especially dangerous because there are very few examples of aggressor nations moving away from it peacefully. War and revolution are the more frequent ways it burns itself out. The Soviet Union altered its confrontational course after Stalin’s death, but it was a unique and gigantic superpower with enough resources for its leadership to believe that it could compete with the Free World instead of declaring war on it.

As it turned out, the Soviets were wrong, something that more-recent autocrats, including Mr. Putin, no doubt understand. They have watched and learned that their people will eventually begin to compare living standards and see the truth if left unmolested by war and strife. This window on the Free World is even larger in the Internet age, so the conflicts and propaganda have to be even more extreme.

Iran has been operating in the confrontational phase for years, with America and Israel as the main targets, in addition to Tehran’s regional Sunni rivals. Mr. Putin moved into confrontation mode with the invasion of Ukraine and he cannot afford to back down.

The dictatorship that Nicolás Maduro inherited from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela is approaching the final stage as well, as seen from the country’s recent launch of a border and immigrant conflict with Colombia. The emptier the shelves in Venezuelan supermarkets, the more threatening the Colombians must be made to seem. China has relied on tremendous growth to forestall internal unrest for human rights, but if its economy falters substantially, last week’s giant military parade in Beijing will be seen as prelude, not posturing. Taiwan, always in China’s sights, has good reason to be troubled by the West’s feeble responses in Syria and Ukraine.

Power abhors a vacuum, and as the U.S. retreats the space is being filled. After years of the White House leading from behind, Secretary of State John Kerry’s timid warning to the Kremlin this week to stay out of Syria will be as effective as Mr. Obama’s “red line.” Soon Iran—flush with billions of dollars liberated by the nuclear deal—will add even more heft to its support for Mr. Assad.

Dead refugee children are on the shores of Europe, bringing home the Syrian crisis that has been in full bloom for years. There could be no more tragic symbol that it is time to stop being paralyzed by the Obama-era mantra that things could be worse—and to start acting instead to make things better.

Mr. Kasparov, chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, is the author of “Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped,” out next month from PublicAffairs.
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Gary McCutcheon
Gary McCutcheon 1 minute ago

It's amazing to me how many writers whose work is published in the WSJ as well as those who comment in this section lump the entire Middle East into one place. Kasparov labels it "...the wreckage of the Middle East." While no one would say there aren't enormous issues taking place within various countries, contrary to what many people seem to think, the entire Middle East isn't on fire. One need only visit Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Oman, and others to see that life goes on in the same manner as in most other countries. People go to work, shop, dine out, socialize, and conduct their lives in much the same way as virtually all the readers of this publication. The hyperbole of so many who have so little understanding of Middle East issues has really gotten old.
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jerome rathskeller
jerome rathskeller 5 minutes ago

Obama should be imprisoned for treason.
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Frederick A. Green
Frederick A. Green 4 minutes ago

@jerome rathskeller

Unfortunately, the DOJ and FBI are his lap dogs.
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Leon Longchamp
Leon Longchamp 7 minutes ago

The greatest Obamanation of the Obama administration was getting elected by attacking our military and "Bush's War" in Iraq.  That was further compounded by Obama's withdraw of troops and signaling to the world that He put his political values ahead of American Values.

America deposed a dictator as brutal as Assad and we facilitated the formation of a Democracy in a Muslim country.  Making it work is a difficult task, but it was (and is) a battle worth fighting for. Obama was not up to the task, Obama's failure is one reason that Muslims are fleeing their homeland.  They are looking for the security in Democratic countries today.

Obama's actions are a stain American leadership as well as his legacy 
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Thomas Yasin
Thomas Yasin 7 minutes ago

Mr. Kasparov makes the common mistake in assuming that America's enemies are Obama's enemies.  They're not.  Mr. Obama's enemies are Republicans, congressmen, and conservatives.

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TIM LUKER 3 minutes ago

@Thomas Yasin

Don't forget the Little Sisters of the Poor.
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Power User
Posts: 34485

« Reply #658 on: September 12, 2015, 10:21:52 AM »

Some glib passages IMHO, but also some worthy content:

 Coming to Terms With the American Empire
Geopolitical Weekly
April 14, 2015 | 07:54 GMT
Text Size

By George Friedman

"Empire" is a dirty word. Considering the behavior of many empires, that is not unreasonable. But empire is also simply a description of a condition, many times unplanned and rarely intended. It is a condition that arises from a massive imbalance of power. Indeed, the empires created on purpose, such as Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany, have rarely lasted. Most empires do not plan to become one. They become one and then realize what they are. Sometimes they do not realize what they are for a long time, and that failure to see reality can have massive consequences.
World War II and the Birth of an Empire

The United States became an empire in 1945. It is true that in the Spanish-American War, the United States intentionally took control of the Philippines and Cuba. It is also true that it began thinking of itself as an empire, but it really was not. Cuba and the Philippines were the fantasy of empire, and this illusion dissolved during World War I, the subsequent period of isolationism and the Great Depression.

The genuine American empire that emerged thereafter was a byproduct of other events. There was no great conspiracy. In some ways, the circumstances of its creation made it more powerful. The dynamic of World War II led to the collapse of the European Peninsula and its occupation by the Soviets and the Americans. The same dynamic led to the occupation of Japan and its direct governance by the United States as a de facto colony, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur as viceroy.

The United States found itself with an extraordinary empire, which it also intended to abandon. This was a genuine wish and not mere propaganda. First, the United States was the first anti-imperial project in modernity. It opposed empire in principle. More important, this empire was a drain on American resources and not a source of wealth. World War II had shattered both Japan and Western Europe. The United States gained little or no economic advantage in holding on to these countries. Finally, the United States ended World War II largely untouched by war and as perhaps one of the few countries that profited from it. The money was to be made in the United States, not in the empire. The troops and the generals wanted to go home.

But unlike after World War I, the Americans couldn't let go. That earlier war ruined nearly all of the participants. No one had the energy to attempt hegemony. The United States was content to leave Europe to its own dynamics. World War II ended differently. The Soviet Union had been wrecked but nevertheless it remained powerful. It was a hegemon in the east, and absent the United States, it conceivably could dominate all of Europe. This represented a problem for Washington, since a genuinely united Europe — whether a voluntary and effective federation or dominated by a single country — had sufficient resources to challenge U.S. power.

The United States could not leave. It did not think of itself as overseeing an empire, and it certainly permitted more internal political autonomy than the Soviets did in their region. Yet, in addition to maintaining a military presence, the United States organized the European economy and created and participated in the European defense system. If the essence of sovereignty is the ability to decide whether or not to go to war, that power was not in London, Paris or Warsaw. It was in Moscow and Washington.

The organizing principle of American strategy was the idea of containment. Unable to invade the Soviet Union, Washington's default strategy was to check it. U.S. influence spread through Europe to Iran. The Soviet strategy was to flank the containment system by supporting insurgencies and allied movements as far to the rear of the U.S. line as possible. The European empires were collapsing and fragmenting. The Soviets sought to create an alliance structure out of the remnants, and the Americans sought to counter them.
The Economics of Empire

One of the advantages of alliance with the Soviets, particularly for insurgent groups, was a generous supply of weapons. The advantage of alignment with the United States was belonging to a dynamic trade zone and having access to investment capital and technology. Some nations, such as South Korea, benefited extraordinarily from this. Others didn't. Leaders in countries like Nicaragua felt they had more to gain from Soviet political and military support than in trade with the United States.

The United States was by far the largest economic power, with complete control of the sea, bases around the world, and a dynamic trade and investment system that benefitted countries that were strategically critical to the United States or at least able to take advantage of it. It was at this point, early in the Cold War, that the United States began behaving as an empire, even if not consciously.

The geography of the American empire was built partly on military relations but heavily on economic relations. At first these economic relations were fairly trivial to American business. But as the system matured, the value of investments soared along with the importance of imports, exports and labor markets. As in any genuinely successful empire, it did not begin with a grand design or even a dream of one. Strategic necessity created an economic reality in country after country until certain major industries became dependent on at least some countries. The obvious examples were Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, whose oil fueled American oil companies, and which therefore — quite apart from conventional strategic importance — became economically important. This eventually made them strategically important.

As an empire matures, its economic value increases, particularly when it is not coercing others. Coercion is expensive and undermines the worth of an empire. The ideal colony is one that is not at all a colony, but a nation that benefits from economic relations with both the imperial power and the rest of the empire. The primary military relationship ought to be either mutual dependence or, barring that, dependence of the vulnerable client state on the imperial power.

This is how the United States slipped into empire. First, it was overwhelmingly wealthy and powerful. Second, it faced a potential adversary capable of challenging it globally, in a large number of countries. Third, it used its economic advantage to induce at least some of these countries into economic, and therefore political and military, relationships. Fourth, these countries became significantly important to various sectors of the American economy.
Limits of the American Empire

The problem of the American Empire is the overhang of the Cold War. During this time, the United States expected to go to war with a coalition around it, but also to carry the main burden of war. When Operation Desert Storm erupted in 1991, the basic Cold War principle prevailed. There was a coalition with the United States at the center of it. After 9/11, the decision was made to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq with the core model in place. There was a coalition, but the central military force was American, and it was assumed that the economic benefits of relations with the United States would be self-evident. In many ways, the post-9/11 wars took their basic framework from World War II. Iraq War planners explicitly discussed the occupation of Germany and Japan.

No empire can endure by direct rule. The Nazis were perhaps the best example of this. They tried to govern Poland directly, captured Soviet territory, pushed aside Vichy to govern not half but all of France, and so on. The British, on the other hand, ruled India with a thin layer of officials and officers and a larger cadre of businessmen trying to make their fortunes. The British obviously did better. The Germans exhausted themselves not only by overreaching, but also by diverting troops and administrators to directly oversee some countries. The British could turn their empire into something extraordinarily important to the global system. The Germans broke themselves not only on their enemies, but on their conquests as well.

The United States emerged after 1992 as the only global balanced power. That is, it was the only nation that could deploy economic, political and military power on a global basis. The United States was and remains enormously powerful. However, this is very different from omnipotence. In hearing politicians debate Russia, Iran or Yemen, you get the sense that they feel that U.S. power has no limits. There are always limits, and empires survive by knowing and respecting them.

The primary limit of the American empire is the same as that of the British and Roman empires: demographic. In Eurasia — Asia and Europe together — the Americans are outnumbered from the moment they set foot on the ground. The U.S. military is built around force multipliers, weapons that can destroy the enemy before the enemy destroys the relatively small force deployed. Sometimes this strategy works. Over the long run, it cannot. The enemy can absorb attrition much better than the small American force can. This lesson was learned in Vietnam and reinforced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is a country of 25 million people. The Americans sent about 130,000 troops. Inevitably, the attrition rate overwhelmed the Americans. The myth that Americans have no stomach for war forgets that the United States fought in Vietnam for seven years and in Iraq for about the same length of time. The public can be quite patient. The mathematics of war is the issue. At a certain point, the rate of attrition is simply not worth the political ends.

The deployment of a main force into Eurasia is unsupportable except in specialized cases when overwhelming force can be bought to bear in a place where it is important to win. These occasions are typically few and far between. Otherwise, the only strategy is indirect warfare: shifting the burden of war to those who want to bear it or cannot avoid doing so. For the first years of World War II, indirect warfare was used to support the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union against Germany.

There are two varieties of indirect warfare. The first is supporting native forces whose interests are parallel. This was done in the early stages of Afghanistan. The second is maintaining the balance of power among nations. We are seeing this form in the Middle East as the United States moves between the four major regional powers — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey — supporting one then another in a perpetual balancing act. In Iraq, U.S. fighters carry out air strikes in parallel with Iranian ground forces. In Yemen, the United States supports Saudi air strikes against the Houthis, who have received Iranian training.

This is the essence of empire. The British saying is that it has no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. That old cliche is, like most cliches, true. The United States is in the process of learning that lesson. In many ways the United States was more charming when it had clearly identified friends and enemies. But that is a luxury that empires cannot afford.
Building a System of Balance

We are now seeing the United States rebalance its strategy by learning to balance. A global power cannot afford to be directly involved in the number of conflicts that it will encounter around the world. It would be exhausted rapidly. Using various tools, it must create regional and global balances without usurping internal sovereignty. The trick is to create situations where other countries want to do what is in the U.S. interest.

This endeavor is difficult. The first step is to use economic incentives to shape other countries' behavior. It isn't the U.S. Department of Commerce but businesses that do this. The second is to provide economic aid to wavering countries. The third is to provide military aid. The fourth is to send advisers. The fifth is to send overwhelming force. The leap from the fourth level to the fifth is the hardest to master. Overwhelming force should almost never be used. But when advisers and aid do not solve a problem that must urgently be solved, then the only type of force that can be used is overwhelming force. Roman legions were used sparingly, but when they were used, they brought overwhelming power to bear.
The Responsibilities of Empire

I have been deliberately speaking of the United States as an empire, knowing that this term is jarring. Those who call the United States an empire usually mean that it is in some sense evil. Others will call it anything else if they can. But it is helpful to face the reality the United States is in. It is always useful to be honest, particularly with yourself. But more important, if the United States thinks of itself as an empire, then it will begin to learn the lessons of imperial power. Nothing is more harmful than an empire using its power carelessly.

It is true that the United States did not genuinely intend to be an empire. It is also true that its intentions do not matter one way or another. Circumstance, history and geopolitics have created an entity that, if it isn't an empire, certainly looks like one. Empires can be far from oppressive. The Persians were quite liberal in their outlook. The American ideology and the American reality are not inherently incompatible. But two things must be faced: First, the United States cannot give away the power it has. There is no practical way to do that. Second, given the vastness of that power, it will be involved in conflicts whether it wants to or not. Empires are frequently feared, sometimes respected, but never loved by the rest of the world. And pretending that you aren't an empire does not fool anyone.

The current balancing act in the Middle East represents a fundamental rebalancing of American strategy. It is still clumsy and poorly thought out, but it is happening. And for the rest of the world, the idea that the Americans are coming will become more and more rare. The United States will not intervene. It will manage the situation, sometimes to the benefit of one country and sometimes to another.
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