SLIM PICKINGS FOR FACT FINDERS — Now that both major U.S. political parties have their presidential candidates, a continuous procession of foreign government officials, politicians, and prominent journalists has come to Washington in pursuit of one objective: gaining information about what to expect from either presidency. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was an unknown quantity to foreign governments when he began his successful race for the Democratic nomination, and is still largely an unknown quantity today. In many areas, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is no better. Hence foreign governments’ quest for information on each candidate’s position on energy, the environment, immigration, […]

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Kazakhstan, with its vast reserves of hydrocarbons, is on a path to become a petro-power on a global scale. That, at least, is the plan of the Kazakh government, oil companies with access to the rich oil fields of Kazakhstan, and those seeking alternatives to OPEC oil. However, as oil production in the landlocked country increases in the years ahead, Kazakhstan could find itself without viable export routes to bring its hydrocarbon wealth to market. In 2007, Kazakhstan produced approximately 1.45 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), of which it exported around 1.2 million bpd. Kazakhstan’s […]

PARIS — “Nicolas Sarkozy: A Demanding Friend of Israel” Thus ran the headline on Tuesday’s edition of the French daily Le Figaro, a day after Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French president to address the Israeli Knesset since Fran├žois Mitterrand in 1982. In his speech (French link), Sarkozy himself insisted that he was a friend of Israel — even a “dear and steadfast” friend — and the tone was indeed friendly. “France will always be at Israel’s side when its security and its existence are threatened,” he said, “. . . I have always felt this from the bottom of […]

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Readers of the blog know that I’ve been very impressed by Turkey’s diplomatic navigation, not only of the PKK crisis, but of regional matters in general. So when I saw this article in Le Point on Ahmet Davutoglu, PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy guru and the Turkish “Kissinger”, I did some digging. What I came up with, this January 2008 article (.pdf) from Insight Turkey, is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in Turkey and the Middle East in general, and the changing global role of a dynamic Middle Power in general. In the article, Davutoglu describes Turkey’s […]

In 1973, it would have been hard to imagine anyone would ever wax nostalgic about the Cold War. How times have changed. There is nothing like almost three years of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to help burnish the memory of former Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev. The Cold War was an expensive and deadly conflict, sapping trillions of dollars over four decades and resulting in tens of millions of lives lost. Energies that could have been devoted to human betterment were directed instead toward human destruction. The Cold War had its successes, from spurring scientific advancement to putting a man on […]

In late May and early June, Israeli forces carried out massive military exercises over the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The operation, reportedly codenamed “Glorious Spartan 08” unfurled a show of force worthy of Hollywood’s epic movie producers. The maneuvers, everyone quickly surmised, looked very much like the kind of military operation Iran would see over its own skies if Israel (or the United States, or NATO) decided that diplomacy has reached a dead end in its efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program. On the surface, the exercise offered Israeli forces the opportunity to practice. But it was much more than that. […]

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Diplomatic engagement with Iran is inevitable, not because they’re “ten feet tall and on a roll,” as this WaPo article (via Laura Rozen) puts it, or even because they’re “dangerous, and clever, and good at asymmetric warfare.” Diplomatic engagement is inevitable because it’s the only official means of communication between nations besides war, and war is in neither Iran’s nor our interest. On the other hand, I don’t think that diplomatic engagement should be organized under a logic of “[T]hey have a lot of vulnerabilities — and. . .we can exploit them.” At this point, too, how to manage the […]

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This Oxford Business Group article on the potential rebirth of the Russia-Syria strategic relationship (via Friday Lunch Club) illustrates that, while Russia is not yet in a position to project its influence as widely as it did during the Cold War, the Middle East is already well within its reach. It also illustrates the fine line that American policy, both regional and global, will have to walk in the post-Bush era. Whether in terms of values (democracy promotion) or interests (containment/isolation of adversaries), readily available alternatives exist to American influence and support. Sovereign wealth funds, for instance, are increasingly allowing […]

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I’ve got to agree with Andrew Sullivan on this one. We still don’t know how the final chapter on the Surge will turn out, because we still don’t know how the final chapter on Iraq will turn out. Setting aside the problems of causality (the Anbar Awakening that preceded it, the sectarian cleansing that had been largely accomplished before it, etc.), I acknowledge that the decision to double down and dig in — which struck me as a desperate measure with “last ditch” written all over it — obviously struck some of the actors in Iraq quite differently. But as […]

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It looks like the EU went ahead and froze the European assets of Iran’s Melli Bank, and banned its activities on the continent. The bank, suspected of providing services to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, had already been targeted by American sanctions last year. The move had been prematurely announced by English PM Gordon Brown last week and immediately denied by the EU, and comes on the heels of a supposed “freeze for freeze” offer, whereby Iran would agree to hold off on any increase in its uranium enrichment capacity in return for the EU3+3 holding off on any […]

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Meanwhile, the debate over the American military engagement in Iraq has been reduced to the choice between maintaining or withdrawing our troops. Ignored is the notion that we can maintain troop levels while disengaging politically (e.g. disengaged bases) or that, conversely, we can withdraw our troops while significantly ramping up our political engagement. The latter option is what this report (.pdf) by the Task Force for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq proposes as the basis for a complete withdrawal of American forces within 12-18 months, beginning with a modified UN mandate that internationalizes the Iraqi aid and support mission in […]

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Dr. iRack over at Abu Muqawama has emerged recently as an authoritative analyst of the Iraq War (and everything that term implies), so I recommend this rundown of the current situation that he posted over the weekend. Without getting too much into the details of his post (which is pretty comprehensive), it’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one who finds it difficult to make any meaningful sense out of the various narratives and counter-narratives that are now coming out of Iraq. Glass half-full or glass half-empty depends to a great deal on the observer. But I’d venture […]

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Ali Larijani is emerging as one of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s principle rivals among conservatives, and while some people have suggested that this is an encouraging sign, I’ve never found it too reassuring. This Sami Moubayed profile of him over at Asia Times Online gives an idea why: The two men differ in style, not in substance. Both want to continue to support Hezbollah in Lebanon. Both want to pursue Iran’s dream of nuclear power for civilian use and refuse to grant concessions to the Americans, and both strive to export the Islamic revolution outside its borders, to neighboring countries […]

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A few months ago, a friend here in Paris asked me how Americans could consider the Iraq War a failure when it had accomplished its principle strategic goal, namely securing Iraqi oil for American consumption. I argued that the rise in crude oil prices had largely offset whatever advantage had accrued from securing access to it, and that the missing element to his argument was American oil companies — as opposed to the Iraqi government — actually profiting from the oil. As Andrew Sullivan points out here, that missing element will very shortly no longer be missing, making the case […]

As the sun rose over the eastern horizon, casting its light across Israel into the Mediterranean sea, the still-smoking guns fell silent in the Gaza Strip and the surrounding areas in southern Israel. After months of arduous diplomatic efforts by Egyptian officials, and years of rocket attacks, armed incursions and escalating threats, an agreement has been reached between the Islamist rulers of Gaza, Hamas, and the Israeli government. Officially, the “period of calm” is supposed to last six months. If the quiet lasts that long, most people in the region will be very surprised. There are many reasons to predict […]

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You’d think the idea of a naval blockade of Iran would have raised the eyebrows of advocates for an Iran policy that, if it doesn’t manage to prevent a worst case scenario, at least doesn’t start off just a hair-trigger incident away from one. But instead the idea, which I first (and last) saw mentioned offhandedly in the Israeli press about a month ago, has flown under the radar to emerge fullgrown as one of the conventional wisdom options for pressuring Tehran to freeze its uranium enrichment program. According to Laura Rozen, it’s something to keep your eyes on, and […]

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