Last week, at West Point, President Barack Obama sounded a familiar theme that all recent U.S. presidents have lamented, when he said, “The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone. It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone.” Obama also reiterated time-honored propositions in his promise to “be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well,” and his desire “to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions.” The just-released 2010 National Security Strategy of the United States continues this approach, declaring, “Alliances are force multipliers: through multinational cooperation and coordination, […]

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombians will head to the polls on Sunday, May 30, in what has unexpectedly become not only the closest presidential race in years, but one that is too close to call. The neck-and-neck contest pits outsider Antanus Mockus, a quirky intellectual and former two-time mayor of Bogotá, against former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, a veteran political mover-and-shaker and heir to the outgoing conservative President Alvaro Uribe. All polls suggest that neither of the two contenders, in a field of six main candidates, will gain more than the 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a second-round […]

It is by now the consensus view that the primary strategic beneficiary of the Iraq War has been Iran. By this view, the removal of a hostile regime in Baghdad has not only moved Iraq into the Iranian sphere of influence, but has also opened the floodgates for Tehran to extend its influence westward throughout the Middle East. This analysis, while compelling, begs the question: If Iran has “won” the Iraq War, just what has it really won? In a best-case scenario of a stable Iraq, it still amounts to a potentially volatile and dangerous relationship, and definitely a high-maintenance […]

The “fog of sanctions” has descended on Washington, obscuring what this week’s proposed U.N. Security Council resolution can accomplish in stifling Iran’s drive to nuclear weapons. No less perilous than the “fog of war” that besets generals, the “fog of sanctions” prevents pundits and politicians from having a clear view of the power and potential of this draft document (.pdf), which may be the strongest set of smart sanctions ever developed by the Security Council. The resolution’s first strength is that it undermines real assets and capabilities that Iran might use for weapons production. The document astutely mixes compulsory and […]

As somebody who voted for President Barack Obama, I am surprised to find myself believing that he is slated to be — and more so, should be — a one-term president, a possibility that Obama himself has already broached publicly. It’s not any one thing he has or hasn’t done that has led me to this admittedly premature conclusion. Rather, it’s a growing realization that everything Obama brings to the table in terms of both deeds and vision suggests that history will judge him to be a transitional figure. He is a much-needed leveling-off from Bush-Cheney’s nosebleed-inducing foreign policy trajectory, […]

Although its future is shrouded in doubt, the deal announced on Monday by the Turkish and Brazilian presidents that would allow Iran to ship half of its enriched uranium across the border to Turkey will very likely also serve as an important milestone in the development of a new Turkish foreign policy that is increasingly independent, assertive and engaged in regional — and even global — affairs. For Turkey, the deal represents a major achievement in its effort to engage Iran and to promote a diplomatic solution to the ongoing debate over Tehran’s nuclear program — while in the process […]

Yesterday’s joint declaration by Brazil, Turkey and Iran does not end the Iranian nuclear crisis. With luck, it may mark the beginning of the end, though it will need to overcome some major hurdles even to achieve that goal. In their trilateral statement, the three governments propose that Iran “deposit” 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium in Turkey pending receipt within one year of 120 kilograms of more-highly enriched uranium suitable for Tehran’s Research Reactor (TRR). Since early last year, the Iranian government has been seeking to acquire specially enriched uranium fuel for the TRR. The reactor, built by the […]

The Obama administration is moving ahead with a James Baker-style strategy in attempting to persuade Russia to support stronger and stricter sanctions against Iran. This week, the president submitted the “123 Agreement” on civilian nuclear cooperation to Congress. The agreement had been initialed during the Bush administration, but was withdrawn from congressional consideration after the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. It will now take effect unless both houses of Congress pass legislation to block its implementation within a 90-day period. The agreement matters a great deal to the Russian nuclear industry, which, along with the country’s oil and gas complexes, makes […]

Last week, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was informally tapped to mediate negotiations between Iran and the West over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly told his “brother,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, that Iran was prepared to accept Brazilian mediation “in principle.” The starting point for talks will be the same as last fall’s nuclear fuel swap deal, whereby Iran was to ship its enriched uranium to France and Russia for reprocessing, after which the reprocessed fuel would be returned to Iran for use in the Tehran medical reactor. But while Lula is […]

Much of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s activities in Washington this week will center on his efforts to secure American support, both diplomatic and financial, for his new peace plan — and specifically, the controversial issue of negotiating with the Taliban. The Afghan government and its foreign backers differentiate between reconciliation and reintegration. The former concept involves negotiating a political settlement with senior Taliban leaders who are willing to break with al-Qaida. By contrast, reintegration entails inducing lower-level Taliban fighters — who might have become Taliban fighters for non-ideological reasons, such as financial incentives — to stop fighting and return to […]

At a recent NATO foreign ministers meeting in Tallinn, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States would not withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) from Europe in the near-term future. Clinton also said that these weapons should only be drawn down if done so simultaneously with similar Russian systems. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed these sentiments and stated that U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe are an integral part of the alliance’s deterrent. But in addition to being increasingly unpopular among U.S. allies, the estimated 150-200 U.S. TNWs in Europe (.pdf) also lack military utility and […]

Wired magazine’s May cover presents Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, while the accompanying article salutes the “hacker culture” that “conquered the world.” Amid the political paralysis we now witness in Washington, it’s a timely reminder of how all the top talent of the Boomer generation went into business and technology, while the dregs went into politics. Don’t believe me? Try to imagine a politics-oriented magazine offering a similar cover: You couldn’t get more than half of America to agree upon a single Boomer politician of Gates’ historic stature. Boomer business leaders and technologists rebooted the world, playing seminal roles in […]

A few weeks ago, the United States had cautious grounds for optimism in terms of both Iran and Iraq. Election results in Iraq had opened the possibility of a more inclusive national government being formed, one that might finally begin to build on the breathing room obtained at such cost by the surge — and which would permit the orderly drawdown of U.S. forces over the next year. On Iran, there seemed to be an emerging international consensus that Iran’s nuclear program was deserving of sanctions: Both Russia and China signaled that they were prepared to consider new measures designed […]

In recent weeks, the members of the Obama administration have developed a comprehensive strategy for the Eighth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which began yesterday. The administration’s declared position is to use the conference and other opportunities to strengthen all three of the treaty’s core objectives or “pillars”: disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. U.S. officials have stressed their support for the fundamental trilateral bargain behind the NPT: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards eliminating them; states without nuclear weapons will not seek to obtain them; and all countries will enjoy access to peaceful […]

Over the space of the next 5-10 years, Iraq’s political leaders must grapple with a series of deeply contentious issues that cut to the core of the design of the Iraqi state. Many of these divisive issues — such as the division of powers between the central government and the regions, control over the oil and gas sector, and the future status of disputed territories in northern Iraq — are intertwined, and relate in one way or another to the current and future status of the Kurds in Iraq. In the broadest sense, then, the “big picture” question facing Iraq […]

As Iraq’s political leaders crisscrossed the region holding meetings in various neighboring capitals in the run-up to and aftermath of the March 7 parliamentary elections, they provided a running display of the country’s continued vulnerability to the actions, both benign and malign, of its regional neighbors. While these cordial meetings were described as friendly consultations and information-sharing exercises, they reflect a stark reality: Iraq’s future is not solely in its own hands, and due to its weakness, the country’s future course will be shaped by both the actions and interference of its neighbors. Less clear is Iraq’s contribution to the […]

President Barack Obama’s multipronged approach to minimizing nuclear risks — embodied in the simultaneous roll out of the Nuclear Posture Review, the START follow-on treaty with Russia, and the Nuclear Security Summit — is nothing if not ambitious. Taken together, these steps mark a potential turning-point for U.S. nuclear strategy by reducing the role of nuclear weapons and by prioritizing efforts to lock down weapons-usable material, clamping down on nuclear terrorism, and strengthening international rules against proliferation. As the Nuclear Posture Review puts it, “Changes in the nuclear threat environment have altered the hierarchy of our nuclear concerns and strategic […]