Archive for ‘United States’

July 20, 2018

US Effectively Ends Israel-Palestine Mediation

Back in December, I wrote that the Trump administration’s formal embrace of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital told us a lot about the kind of Israeli-Palestinian agreement they would put on the table. It would be close to the Netanyahu regime’s view.

The US administration still has not released such a proposal but as things have heated up between Gaza and Israel, the three key US officials on Israel-Palestine besides President Trump –  – have penned an op-ed that could have been written by Netanyahu or pretty much any Likudnik. It is a full-throated endorsement of the right-wing Israeli view of the situation with Gaza. In the whole op-ed, Israel is not an actor; it is only acted upon. The implication is Israel shares zero responsibility for the broken and deadly situation.

The reality is quite different. Neither Hamas nor the Government of Israel have been willing to negotiate – directly or through intermediaries – to make the kinds of concessions that would bring about a substantive change in the strategic situation. The instability, suffering, PTSD, and dead that are part of the status quo are a choice (contra the Likud view). The parties could pursue negotiations and change the reality in which they live. But they both have to make concessions.

What concessions you might ask? I think the Int’l Crisis Group has laid it out in great detail; I’d urge you to read their brief closely, both in terms of what it would take and in terms of the low odds of success:

This leaves one other main option, aside from war or continued escalations, and that is to have an intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal under which the PA fully takes over governance in Gaza, relieving Hamas of responsibility for the Gaza economy and providing Israel with an acceptable partner in Gaza with which it can cooperate on development and easing the blockade (Israel is unlikely to fully lift the blockade, even after the PA takes over).

Crisis Group is not optimistic, but the brief does offer a nuanced understanding of the situation on the ground and a reasoned consideration of the policy options. Kushner et al, the ones actually leading US policy, offer nothing of the sort.

In academic parlance, the United States has long been a ‘biased’ mediator in this conflict, closely allied with one of the parties to the dispute. This WaPo op-ed is beyond that; it offers no hint of a United States as mediator of any sort.

Advertisements
May 22, 2018

The Costs of Neglecting Diplomacy

From the start, the Trump administration has not taken diplomacy seriously. Or maybe that is an understatement; from the start, the Trump administration has been hostile toward diplomacy as a tool in the US foreign policy toolbox. Now we are starting to see the impact on real issues like in trade talks with China and on options for dealing with Iran.

If we think of diplomacy as seeking negotiated outcomes, being willing to make mutual concessions, and building the organizational capacity to pursue the first two points, this administration is not keen on diplomacy. Perhaps the idea conflicts with Pres. Trump’s bullying nature and Art of the Deal bravado. The Trump administration has gutted the main US diplomatic agency, the Department of State. The administration has been slow to fill State positions and multiple senior State professionals have resigned (e.g. Feeley). Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s isolation from the professionals and their expertise and the proposed budget cuts at State sent a clear message of disinterest and neglect.

President Trump may not care. Recall he told an interviewer that in terms of foreign policymaking, “I’m the only one that matters.” That attitude + twitter put US negotiators in a tough position, not knowing if and when they will be undercut or US policy will suddenly shift.

Frequently, however, we see the need for a functioning diplomatic apparatus that helps determine US policy (internally) and then negotiates with other parties. Trump is fine at unilateral policy but that doesn’t require diplomacy. He can withdraw from treaties (TPP, Paris climate accords) or move an embassy to Jerusalem, for example. But he has not had any successful negotiated agreement, nor signs that one is on the way. (And note that even when Trump took a step that an ally, Israel, welcomed, he did so unilaterally and thereby forfeited the possibility of getting an Israeli concession in return for moving the embassy.)

Two recent items suggest the problems with neglecting your diplomats. The first example is that even as Michael Singh applauded the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear agreement), he highlighted the power of multilateral sanctions. Singh himself noted the centrality of diplomacy in a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran: “As a senior U.S. official responsible for Iran policy from 2006 to 2008, I know from personal experience that even when the United States was strategically aligned with its diplomatic partners, sanctions required relentless diplomacy in order to be effective.” (emphasis added) Or, Singh, adds: “Diplomacy, not just market signals, will be required to amplify whatever pressure the United States can generate alone, and translate that pressure into policy outcomes.”

Especially given that the US is now NOT strategically aligned with its diplomatic partners on Iran, on what basis should we believe the US can practice relentless diplomacy? All the evidence suggests the opposite. Trump is an inattentive president not open to studying up on issues. The administration lacks a strong inter-agency foreign policy process. etc.

Given that the US is juggling multiple issues with China including trade, North Korea, and Iran, Singh writes, “Diplomacy will also be required to manage the policy tradeoffs looming on the horizon.” Yet on what international issue has the Trump administration set out clear priorities in the face of competing needs and demands?

Singh does write that “Conducting such diplomacy today will be difficult,” but, in his eyes, only because Washington’s European allies are unhappy with US policy. He makes no mention of the US administration’s hostility toward and neglect of diplomacy as an obstacle to its effective use.

In a second example, Ilan Goldenberg builds on a New York Times article about China-US talks to detail Trump administration diplomatic weakness in action. In short, the very things that worry me about Singh’s reliance on relentless diplomacy we learn have led to a mess for the US delegation to China-US negotiations. Some of Goldenberg’s thoughts:

Being part of the international system, let alone the leader of much of it, requires extensive consultation, information sharing, policy coordination, dispute management and resolution, priority setting, and the like with both friends and enemies (not to mention friends you treat like enemies and enemies you treat like friends). If the United States ignores those steps and, in some cases, even lacks the qualified personnel in place who would do such things, I fully expect this China-US example to serve as a template for what we should expect when the Trump administration negotiates.

 

April 15, 2013

Patriots’ Day

As a child of the Boston area, a word about Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts. The day is now celebrated as a holiday in Massachusetts on the third Monday of April (thus Monday, April 15, 2013), and is based on April 19, 1775, the day the American Revolution started at Lexington and Concord, MA. Capt John Parker, leader of the Minutemen gathered on the Lexington green, is reported to have said, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

In the modern era the Massachusetts holiday includes reenactments of the first skirmishes (I still remember that President Gerald Ford and actual British regulars came to Lexington for the bicentennial year); a daytime Red Sox game; and the Boston Marathon. Growing up, it was always part of April school vacation week.

What a day it always was. Sadly, memories of marching Redcoats, pancake breakfasts, and Heartbreak Hill will now be joined by today’s tragedy.

March 1, 2012

Misperceptions, Foreign Policy, and Iran

A new post at the Monkey Cage, co-authored with my colleague Stephen Benedict Dyson:

In an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko rightfully draw attention to the way in which threats to U.S. national security appear overblown today. But because they understandably focus on demonstrating the relative safety of the United States, they do not give as much attention to research on the question of why threats get overblown. When they do turn to the cause, they underplay the central role of psychological factors.

MORE HERE….

February 7, 2012

“Will the US Restrain Israel on Iran? Unlikely”

I did a guest post over at the Monkey Cage: “Will the US Restrain Israel on Iran? Unlikely.”

January 27, 2012

Conference on Arab Uprisings, March 27 at UConn

If you are in the CT, New England, or NY area, come join us for a one-day conference at UConn in Storrs, CT:

“The Arab Uprisings and the Changing Global Order” (flyer)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Student Union 330 (Storrs, CT)

9:00 am — Opening remarks

Panel #1: Political Change in the Arab World
9:15 – 10:45 am

Issandr El Amrani, The Arabist
Eva Bellin, Brandeis University
Amaney Jamal, Princeton University

[coffee break]

Panel #2: Regional Dynamics
11:00 am – 12:30 pm

Robert Blecher, International Crisis Group
Gregory Gause, University of Vermont
Jillian Schwedler, University of Massachusetts

[lunch break]

Panel #3: The Uprisings and the United States
2:00 – 3:30 pm

Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress
Sarah Kreps, Cornell University
Malik Mufti, Tufts University

[coffee break]

Panel #4: Concluding Roundtable
3:45 – 4:30 pm

Sponsored by the Alan R. Bennett Professor, CLAS, and POLS.
Co-sponsored by the Human Rights Institute and Middle Eastern Studies.

For questions, please contact jeremy.pressman@uconn.edu.

 

December 30, 2011

The Idea of American Exceptionalism & US Intervention

The push for a much more restrained US foreign policy, whether in the Middle East (as Gregory Gause argued) or around the world (as Stephen Walt would have it) makes eminent sense.  But if pundits and policymakers are serious about moving the United States in that direction, it is going to require challenging two core beliefs: American exceptionalism and conditional sovereignty. Without challenging these pillars of American interventionism run amok, any shift toward restraint will be shallow and temporary.

The rise of the United States as a global power may have come about because of economic might, technological innovation, and military prowess, but it has also been intimately linked to a can-do attitude and a perception of inherent superiority. While a realist might emphasize that growth in US material power and what the US can do (see Monteiro here), we need to recognize that it has been married to an ideational commitment to using that power. From the moment the colonists prevailed over the mighty British Empire, this was a country that could overcome great odds and re-make the world in its image. We are the city on a hill, the arsenal of democracy, the indispensable nation. The American way is the best way.

History seemed only to add further proof of American supremacy.  US forces crushed the native population and gathered the survivors in reservations. Territory, whether through war or dealmaking, led to the great expansion west – the Louisiana Purchase, Texas and the southwest, Alaska, and even faraway islands in the Pacific Ocean. Our doughboys helped turn the tide in WWI, and we vanquished Nazi Germany in WWII. With Europe in tatters, America saved the day with the Marshall Plan and NATO.  Just 20 years ago, the United States won the Cold War, a massive accomplishment. In short, history is seen as proving that American expansion and intervention was good, necessary, and effective.

For U.S. political candidates, the idea of questioning America’s ability to be number one, to effect change, and to influence others remains a risky strategy. For the GOP presidential candidates this year, it has been an attack line against President Barack Obama. In the 2008 campaign, one thinks of the brouhaha when Michelle Obama said, “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” Critics pounced because expressing doubt about the United States was seen as unacceptable.

Of course since the United States has been a full-fledged superpower, the record has slipped in a way that you might think would lead to the “judicious” use of the U.S. military that then Gov. George W. Bush preached during the 2000 campaign. The military struggled in Korea and then more so in Vietnam. After the seeming redemption of the first Gulf War in 1991, the last decade has brought back the questions; Iraq and Afghanistan were and are a difficult slog. On the economic front, the 1950s and 1960s gave way to energy crises and the rise of other economic powers, whether Japan in the 1980s or China and India today.

Now if we were strict about sovereignty, we might have a problem meddling in countless countries. So hand in hand with American exceptionalism has been a commitment to the conditional nature of sovereignty. If Washington feels it needs to intervene, it does.

To be fair, sovereignty is not an impenetrable roadblock. International law makes exceptions for genocide, for example, and R2P is carving a much larger hole in sovereignty. Moreover, if the United States gets multilateral, regional, and/or UN blessing for proposed meddling, the sovereignty question fades even more from the debate.

The problem is that violations of sovereignty may come with a heavy price, a price far worse than the initial benefits. The US invasion of Iraq created a political vacuum that al-Qaeda exploited to the detriment of Iraqis and Americans. What is blowback, after all, if not US meddling coming back to bite Washington? When the United States kills 24 Pakistani soldiers or when a US drone crashes in Iran, we should all recognize the fluid take on sovereignty that such incidents represent and worry about the future implications of such behavior.

Aggressive internationalism, whether of the neoconservative or liberal variety, relies on a belief in U.S. effectiveness, on a missionary zeal (nicely captured by Dominic Tierney), and on the ability to waltz into and out of countries. So if the grand strategy needs rethinking, it will not be enough to simply table an alternative built on humility and restraint. It is going to take a much deeper debate about how we see ourselves in relation to the rest of the world and whether we are willing to reformulate our ideas. Is that a debate our polarized political system is ready to have?

 

 

December 5, 2011

New post on Iran and US Foreign Policy

Over at Mideast Matrix, I posted on the recent explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility and set it within the larger context of Obama foreign policy.

September 19, 2011

Palestinians at the UN

So finally the week of decision has arrived, and the Palestinian issue will be taken up at the United Nations. Claiming that the Palestinian appeal to the UN is bad for the peace process or is the death of Oslo rings hollow to me. There is no peace process right now if what one means by peace process is high-level Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at resolving the conflict. Since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, we have only witnessed a few weeks of such talks. So it is bad for something that does not exist?

Moreover, criticizing President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA for turning to the UN because it is a unilateral move also seems odd because a) the UN is the world’s central multilateral institution and b) the UN stamp of approval in 1947 was and is a key building block for Israel’s statehood. In a related sense, if one wants the Palestinians to reject violence, shouldn’t they be permitted diplomatic, political, and legal moves?  A Fatah leader quoted in the excellent Crisis Group report: “The world is telling us that we should be doing only peaceful resistance, but what we are doing at the UN is not even resistance, it’s just a legal move, and we are being told that even that is illegitimate. Is there anything that would be considered legitimate?”

The reason we don’t have a peace process is interrelated Israeli and Palestinian opposition. Think of it like a Mobius strip. The Netanyahu government, and the majority of Israelis who support that government, don’t believe in a genuine two-state solution, as I explained here. They oppose a negotiated, genuine two-state solution  a) because it runs counter to the Greater Israel project in the West Bank including East Jerusalem – so ideological opposition – and b) because of Hamas. Israelis don’t think the PA can deliver a peaceful state of affairs given Hamas and the Hamas position suggests Palestinians are not ready for peace. The problems associated with the Oslo process (1993-2001) and Gaza Disengagement (2005) fuel and reinforce such sentiments.  Of course, Hamas holds some political power in part because Israel has been unwilling to stop settlements and expansion and, with its current government, is disinterested in a two-state solution. Round and round we go.

I have a hard time seeing that this Palestinian move at the UN leads anywhere productive except in one unlikely scenario: If enough Israelis turn on their government because of Israel’s intense political isolation around the world and strained relations with the Obama administration. (Tom Friedman goes house on the Israeli government.) Plausible but unlikely because more political isolation reinforces an Israeli perspective that sees the world as aligned against Israel regardless of Israeli policy.

What will Abbas do after the UN meetings? Abbas: “The Palestinian people and their leadership will pass through very difficult times after” the UN move. Okay, what does that mean? The Palestinians could lose a lot financially if Israel cuts off the return of Palestinian tax revenue that Israel collects and the U.S. Congress blocks aid to the PA. However, Israel might not want to cut off funds if that jeopardized Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation; there is no simple all-good or all-bad option here regardless of one’s interests and viewpoint. The Israeli government fears, and has planned for, mass Palestinian demonstrations and possible violence.

Is it too late to avert a showdown at the UN? Probably, but maybe someone will pull a rabbit out of a hat: a softer UN resolution, a Quartet statement in lieu of a UN debate, a renewal of bilateral talks. Still, it does not seem likely.

Just to make sure things look and feel bleak, let me close with this excerpt from the Crisis Group report (pages 37-38). It explains the PA’s situation even before any UN action:

This comes atop other worrying signals concerning the PA. Since Prime Minister Fayyad announced a cabinet reshuffle the day after Mubarak stepped down on 11 February, he has been unable to form a new government. The West Bank economy, economists say, has been softening; corruption investigations against two ministers are ongoing; and Fayyad has been demoralised by the way he was treated in the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process. The PA’s financial crisis – acute even without a cut-off of U.S. aid or halt in Israel tax transfers – is causing distress among its employees, especially given that financial obligations are heightened during the summer. In addition delayed salary payments are becoming harder to bear, since many PA employees have taken out substantial loans.

At the same time, security coordination with Israel reportedly has decreased somewhat. The next in a sequence of National Security Forces battalions to be trained in Jordan under U.S. supervision has been delayed; granting of permission for Palestinian security forces to move between various areas in the West Bank has been slowed; and decisions that were taken by Israeli field commanders have been kicked up the chain. The PA seems as intent as ever on combating crime and Hamas, but forward movement on security reforms has ceased. All of this has further shaken popular confidence in their leader’s ability to deliver and in ministers’ faith in their ability to govern. The most difficult consequences may be yet to come: “Our budget situation is absolutely debilitating. We are now working on a very serious austerity budget that could fairly be described as draconian”, a senior PA official said.

Ouch.

September 8, 2011

September 11: Ten Years After (Panel)

On Friday, September 9, 2011, I will be moderating a panel at UConn on “September 11: Ten Years After.” The event will be streamed live. The event will take place from 12-1 pm EST.

Prof. Stephen Dyson will speak about how Bush, Blair, and Rumsfeld reacted on the day and what it meant for the next ten years of foreign policy.
Prof. Shareen Hertel will address the human rights origins and implications of 9/11.