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Foreign Affairs


Foreign Policy? Becoming A Bit Uncomfortable On The Left

Gloria Borger, hardly a right-winger (and certainly an Obama supporter), takes Obama to task about his performance so far in the foreign policy arena:

This is not a column about whether the president should take pictures with — or shake the hands of — unstable foreign leaders who mostly call him names and rant about America.

Sometimes, it’s just unavoidable. A grimace instead of a smile on the face would be better, sure. But it’s not the end of America’s standing in the world, as some are suggesting.

But there is a problem, and it’s not about photo ops. It’s about finding the appropriate tonal response to leaders who say outrageous things about us and about our allies.

What she’s talking about are two recent incidents – one in which Obama was in attendance and the other occurred in the UN when Iran’s Amadinejad called for the destruction of Israel.

In both cases, Obama’s response was essentially a non-response.

Says Borger:

Case in point: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the podium at the United Nations conference in Geneva on Monday to call Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime,” we might have said something. The European delegates walked out of the conference (we declined to attend), but when asked about the brouhaha later, the State Department spokesman, sticking to the talking points, could only muster that “that type of rhetoric is not helpful and doesn’t help facilitate a constructive dialogue.”

You think?

A bit of a chuckle there for me. You know it’s gotten bad when even the Borgers of the world are criticizing the issuance of boilerplate rhetoric in response to what the rest of the West considers to be outrageous and inflammatory words. While not exactly a non-response, the administration comes as close to one as you can with its words.

But the second incident is even worse. Here Borger is talking about Newt Gingrich’s criticism of Obama and claiming he missed his real opportunity:

But the Summit of the Americas gave them an easy opportunity to decry the president’s weakness, not only after his handshake with Chavez but also when he sat quietly through Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute anti-American rant.

He didn’t have to walk out, but he could have given a sharper critique of Ortega’s histrionics after the event. Instead, he decided to just give it the back of his hand, saying only that “it was 50 minutes long.”

Its funny, the administration will attack any domestic critic with the full power of its spin machine. And yet, the president sits through a 50 minute anti-American tirade (after one of his advisers declared anti-Americanism was no longer cool in the world) and has no reaction at all.

Tell me, who’s job is it to defend the US if not his? Of course that’s not an easy thing to do if a president engaged in apologizing for the country at every foreign affairs opportunity, is it?

~McQ


Axelrod – Clueless

The more I hear from this crowd the more I come to believe they live in cloud cuckoo land:

Top White House adviser David Axelrod on Monday said that President Obama’s trips to Europe, Turkey and Latin America in the last three weeks have made anti-American sentiment uncool and “created a new receptivity” to U.S. interests.

“What’s happened is anti-Americanism isn’t cool anymore,” Mr. Axelrod said, speaking to an audience of a few hundred at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“This president has not only engaged the leaders of the world, he’s engaged the people of the world,” Mr. Axelrod said, arguing that Mr. Obama’s approach to foreign policy has restored “a sense of humility” that “was missing” in the past.

So that’s what was missing. And it has paid such dividends so far – Europe rejected the two big Obama goals of his tour (increased governmental stimulus spending and increases in European combat troops to Afghanistan), but they feel much better about the fact that he “listened” while they said no. Heh … why engage in anti-Americanism when “no” suffices?

Axelrod’s statement is so pathetically naive that it is difficult to comprehend it being spoken by a senior adviser in a presidential administration. Bowing to kings and fist-bumping dictators doesn’t make anyone more receptive to the US – it simply identifies an easy mark. This crew has absolutely no grasp on foreign policy at all, especially when they seem to actually believe that one quick swing around the world has eliminated anti-Americanism and restored anything but a calculated understanding by each of those leaders Obama supposedly charmed as to how far he can push the US and get away with it.

~McQ


Your UN At Work …

Well, here’s one decision the Obama administration can be glad they made – boycotting this mess:

As Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the eradication of Israel in his address to the United Nations anti-racism conference which opened it week long event in Geneva on Monday, delegates walked out, hecklers wearing clown-wigs shouted ‘racist’ towards him and were escorted out by security personnel and his speech was continually interrupted.

But hey, let’s sit down and talk with this fool – it’ll make all the difference in the world.

The UN – your third-world debating club at work.

~McQ


And Now, The Diplomatic Pirate Solution

One of the things that seems peculiar to the left is the belief that diplomacy is the solution to everything. While I prefer that problems that are conducive to being solved by diplomacy receive the full diplomatic treatment, there are some problems, at least as they are defined, which don’t have a diplomatic solution.

That category would most likely include pirates in a failed state. That, however, is apparently not going to deter our new Secretary of State. Fresh from presenting a red “overcharge” “reset” button to the Russians and assuring the Chinese not to worry about us stressing those pesky human rights violations, Hillary Clinton has decided she’ll solve the Somali pirate problem – diplomatically.

Says Clinton:

“We need to bring 21st-century solutions to bear,” she said.

Her 21st solutions include:

Clinton said it may be possible to stop boat-building companies from doing business with the pirates.

Hmmm. Now I may be mistaken here but I was under the impression pirates were pretty well known for hijacking boats, not paying for them.

One element of her initiative, she said, is to “explore ways to track and freeze pirate assets.”

Again, I may be way off base here, but I was under the impression pirate ransom was paid in big, old, whopping bags of cash dropped on the deck of the ship from helicopters. I’m not sure how she plans on tracking, much less freezing that cash as I’m pretty sure the pirates most likely don’t seek out or use banks.

And her third 21st century solution? The good old 19th century meeting, talking and coordinating event:

The other element of the initiative include calling for immediate meetings of an international counterpiracy task force to expand naval coordination against pirates. She said federal agencies would meet Friday to review the problem and consider potential responses.

Yessiree, I feel all 21st century about these initiatives, if you define 21st century solutions as those which address problems they don’t seem to understand with “solutions” which don’t address them at all.

Oh wait, one more sure fire 21st century solution:

The administration plans to send an envoy to a Somali donors conference scheduled for next week in Brussels and will attempt to organize meetings with officials of Somalia’s transitional government as well as regional leaders in its semiautonomous Puntland.

Because that government and those regional leaders have been so successful in keeping piracy under control to this point.

So, let’s review – keep boat companies from doing business with pirates, track and freeze the pirate cash assets, talk amongst themselves and talk to powerless Somali leaders/government.

Impressive. [/sarc]

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]


Pirates: Facts, Fiction and Opinion

If you look at the big picture, you realize that the pirates off the Somali coast are more of a nuisance than a problem.   Estimates are that 25,000 to 30,000 ships per year transit the Gulf of Aden (headed for the Suez Canal) or the east coast of Somalia.  The bulk, of course, go through Suez.  The successful hijackings over a multi-year period have been very low in comparison.  In 2007, for instance, there were 12 successful hijackings.

The area of ocean in which these events take place cover approximately a million square miles. Here’s a great map (pdf) which shows the areas and the incidents through 2007.  Obviously the pirates can pick and choose where to strike while the navies of the world can only react and hope they are close enough to prevent the hijacking.  That was demonstrated quite clearly in the latest hijacking of the US ship in which Capt. Phillips was taken hostage.  It took hours for the USS Bainbridge to arrive on scene and the rescue was only effected because the skiffs the pirates had used had been destroyed and they were forced to use a lifeboat.

20 countries are now concentrating naval assets within the area, most concentrated in the Gulf of Aden.  A coalition of nations commanded by a US admiral constitute Task Force 151 which is strictly an anti-piracy task force.  TF 151 operates in the Gulf.  China and Russia have also committed naval assets to the task but do so outside TF 151.  They coordinate with the TF but only escort their country’s flagged ships.

With the amount of traffic which transits the area, it is obvious that no navy has the assets to escort all of the ships.

But there is a tool through which the TF can coordinate its efforts and ensure those ships which are most likely to be attacked have a safe passage.  One of those tools is a website.  There vessels transiting the area can register their vessel and alert the TF of their time of arrival in the area in which hijacking is most likely.  There are also tips for the masters of vessels transiting the area, maritime intelligence reports and alerts.

Obviously with that number of ships transiting the area, some are more susceptable to attack than others.  What type of ship are the pirates looking for?  According to Admiral  Terry McKnight, (pdf) the TF 151 commander, they’re looking for ships traveling under 15 knots and with a low freeboard with aids boarding. As Adm. McKnight says, those sorts of ships seem to scream “pirate, me, pirate me”.  If the TF knows ships which fit this template are going to be transiting the region, they can arrange to group them with other ships, track their movement and arrange for that movement at a time when the pirates are less likely to be out hunting.

The pirates have also adapted their tactics, especially off the eastern shore in the Indian Ocean.  As shipping has moved further and further off shore to avoid the skiffs employed to board them, the pirates began using “mother ships”. Those are larger ships which carry a number of skiffs and 10 to 20 pirates.  This enabled the pirates to go further and further off shore to attack shipping.

As you’ll note on the map linked above, there are three major areas on the eastern shore (to include Mogadishu) where the pirates seem to be concentrated, one on the tip of the Horn of Africa and one on the north shore of Somalia on the Gulf of Aden.  Admiral McKnight said that “99.99 percent” of the pirates they’ve run across have been exclusively Somali.

The question, however, is would a land-based military mission which attacked these centers of piracy successfully end the attempted hijackings?

In my opinion, probably not.  To date the risk to reward has been so low that there is a seemingly endless supply of would-be pirates.  And, as long as shipping companies are willing to pay the ransom when one of their ships is hijacked, it will, in relative terms, remain a fairly low-risk way of making huge sums of money. Shipping companies know the numbers and recognize that the real chance of hijacking is very low, relatively speaking, and seem to prefer to pay off the hijackers if their ship ends up hijacked.   And, of course, they’re all insured, so that is also part of the equation.

While we may clean out the nests of pirates for a short time if we mount a military operation, I find it hard to believe that others won’t step in, adapt to the new reality (perhaps by moving their base of operations frequently) and again head out into the Gulf or Indian Ocean in search of easy prey.

Punitive military operations may be satisfying in some way but in reality I would think their effect would be a very short term one.  Just like war against insurgents, war against the pirates will see a constant adaptation by the pirates to any tactics the military might use.  But this isn’t a military problem – it is a failed state problem.  The problems ashore – a failed government, abject poverty, and few choices for gainful and legal employment – are what must be solved if we hope to see piracy in that area defeated.  Until they are solved, there will be plenty of eager replacements for whatever casualties we might inflict on the current pirates, and the attacks on shipping will continue.

Meanwhile, what can be done to make attacks on the high seas less likely?  Well the obvious way is to arm the merchantmen.  But for various and sundry reasons, most shipping companies don’t want to do that.  They range from liability concerns, to concerns about essentially untrained crewman with weapons to concerns about gun laws in the various countries the ships go.  We know there aren’t enough naval ships to escort each merchant ship, so options are limited.  Some merchantmen have armed their ships with high-pressure water cannons which have succesfully thwarted a few pirate attacks.

What I expect to see offered soon, perhaps by Blackwater, now known as Xe, is rent-a-gun teams.  For those that want them, a team is air-lifted to the ship as it enters the pirate zone and taken back off by air as they successfully exit the zone.  I’m sure there are some legal and liability concerns there as well, but it may be one of those times when showing up at the rail and pointing a few automatic weapons at a very vulnerable skiff below you would be enough to disuade the would be pirates from attempting to board.

Food for thought.

~McQ


Quote Of The Day

You want pithy, here’s pithy – from Gerald Warner of the UK Telegraph, speaking of the recent European foreign policy tour by President Obama:

President Barack Obama has recently completed the most successful foreign policy tour since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

And that’s the opening line.  Couldn’t help it – deep belly laugh in reaction to it.  As you’ll discover, Warner is not an Obama fan.  RTWT.

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]


Obama Administration – Forget That Habeas Thing, It Only Applies To Gitmo

Earlier in the week I pointed out that the Obama administration was defending their assumed right to continue the wiretaps they so roundly condemned when the Bush administration did them.

And, of course, we all remember the consistent condemnation by candidate Obama of Guantanamo Bay and the denial of habeas to prisoners there as a horrible denial of rights.

Of course that was then and this is now, and it appears what was considered a principled stand now appears nothing more than election year rhetoric.

The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.

But that was a mortal sin when BushHitler was in charge, wasn’t it?

Michael W explains the case here. Even Glenn Greenwald realizes there is no difference between the administrations on this question.

As Insty reminds us:

Yeah, it’s as if all that talk about the evil power-grabs of the Bush Administration was just insincere electioneering. What made those power-grabs evil, in Obama’s eyes, wasn’t that they were power-grabs. It was that they were by the Bush Administration.

~McQ


The Great Obama European Concert Tour

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, what, really, was accomplished in what Anne Applebaum likens more to a sold out concert tour than a diplomatic tour-de-force.

Well in the latter category it was more of a diplomatic tour-de-farce.

The Obama administration had two goals in two important meetings on the continent. The first was the G20 and the goal was to talk the Europeans into buying into increasing government spending to unprecedented levels, as the US has done, in order to “stimulate” the world’s economy. Epic “fail” in that department. However, the Euros did manage to talk Obama out of another 100 billion for the IMF.

The second goal was associated with NATO, and it was to talk our NATO allies into a large commitment of combat troops for Afghanistan. Again, an epic “fail”. As predicted by those who understand Europe, and thus NATO, that was a non-starter from the beginning. NATO instead offered up 5,000 troops, 3,000 on a temporary basis to help with the election, the rest as trainers for the ANA and ANP. But where troops are needed most – in combat positions – none, nada, zip, zero.

So, although you wouldn’t know it given the adoring media reports and the dutiful reporting of the administration spin on the trip, Obama ends up 0-2 in his first attempt at global diplomacy.

Applebaum notes one thing that struck her as “strange”:

Still, someone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama’s keynote foreign policy speech in Prague — leaked in advance, billed as a major statement — was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for “a world without nuclear weapons” and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.

Yet, while Obama mentioned nuclear weapons reduction to Russia, he apparently didn’t mention Iran’s nukes or the fact that Russia’s shipment of the S-300 missile system to Iran is likely to destabilize the region by pushing Israel into finally striking Iran before ths system can be installed.

And then there’s North Korea’s decision to launch its ICBM at the very moment Obama was addressing nuclear weapons reduction. A bit of an in-your-face in diplomatic terms, by Kim Jong Il.

In other words, ridding the world of nuclear weapons would be very nice, but on its own it won’t alter the international balance of power, stop al-Qaeda or prevent large authoritarian states from invading their smaller neighbors.

I’ll be interested to see whether anyone gives a more sober assessment of the trip among the talking heads (as Applebaum did) or whether it will continue to be characterized as something it wasn’t.

~McQ


Obama Visits Troops In Iraq

I was wondering if this would happen:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, met Obama shortly after Air Force One landed in Baghdad about 4:42 p.m. local time (9:42 a.m. ET).

Obama chose to visit Iraq rather than Afghanistan because of its proximity to Turkey, which Obama just visited, said Robert Gibbs, the president’s spokesman.

In addition, Obama wanted to discuss Iraq’s political situation with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, Gibbs said.

Mostly, however, the stop is about Obama visiting troops, he said.

Good – a tip of the cap. This is important and I’m glad to see President Obama made time to see the troops. We can get all cynical about a lot of things, but I, for one, appreciate the effort and the gesture.

~McQ


North Korea: “Herro, UN?”

North Korea, ignoring the world as usual, launched it’s long-range missile:

North Korea fired a long-range rocket on Sunday, provoking international outrage and prompting the U.N. Security Council to call an emergency meeting.

The world as usual hopped up and down and told North Korea how angry it is:

“North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint and further isolated itself from the community of nations,” President Obama said in Prague, urging Pyongyang to honor the U.N. resolutions and to refrain from further “provocative” actions.

It’s “obligations” obviously, pertain to obeying a unanimous UN Security Council resolution barring North Korea from firing ballistic missiles resolution passed in 2006. Of course North Korea never agreed to or had any say in the resolution. Just as obviously then, they feel no compunction whatsoever to abide by it.

And now, with the UN Security Council emergency meeting looming, what can we expect?

The 15-nation Security Council was due to hold an emergency closed-door meeting from 3 p.m. EDT but China and Russia have made clear they will use their veto power to block any resolution imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang .

For some reason, all of this reminded me of this from Team America: World Police -

Kim Jong Il: Hans Brix? Oh no! Oh, herro. Great to see you again, Hans!

Hans Blix: Mr. Il, I was supposed to be allowed to inspect your palace today, but your guards won’t let me enter certain areas.

Kim Jong Il: Hans, Hans, Hans! We’ve been frew this a dozen times. I don’t have any weapons of mass destwuction, OK Hans?

Hans Blix: Then let me look around, so I can ease the UN’s collective mind. I’m sorry, but the UN must be firm with you. Let me in, or else.

Kim Jong Il: Or else what?

Hans Blix: Or else we will be very angry with you… and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.

~McQ