TORONTO — Major media organizations operate as devout, if secular, institutions. Think of churches, mosques and temples, stripped of their religious content. What remains is the faith, however, both in the mission of journalism and the audience’s ability to appreciate it. This belief system is often accompanied by heavy doses of public sanctimony. Consider the approach of these organizations when confronted with the abduction of their own correspondents. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), upon learning that Mellissa Fung had been snatched in Afghanistan, requested an embargo on information from all Western media outlets in the country. The corporation, citing advice […]

The Operational Reserves

One of the defense evolutions flying under the radar for most people not immediately impacted by it over the past seven years has been the transformation of the National Guard and Reserves from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve. Along with stop losses and extended tours, deployment of reserve units as part of the operational rotation in Iraq and Afghanistan has functioned as a hidden draft affecting tens of thousands of troops at a time. Whether or not that’s advisable is besides the point, because it’s been necessary. But being that it’s taking place, it shouldn’t be on an […]

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) released Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World last week, with its avowed purpose to “stimulate strategic thinking about the future by identifying key trends, the factors that drive them, where they seem to be headed, and how they might interact.” The release of the report was more specifically timed to inform the thinking of the incoming Barack Obama administration about the broader strategic challenges and opportunities it will confront upon assuming office on Jan. 20, 2009 — and before officials of the new administration become overwhelmed by their daily inboxes. The authors of Global Trends […]

Syria’s Influence Inflation

Lots of Syria news to digest at the moment, and not all of it terribly coherent. A good place to start, though, is this Brookings paper by Bilal Saab (via Friday Lunch Club). This, in particular, positively leaped off the page: Syria’s pragmatic statecraft during this episode did not emerge in avacuum but is part of a larger tactical reorientation in foreignpolicy. That reorientation began with the 34-day war between Hizbullahand Israel in southern Lebanon in summer 2006. The duration of thatconflict and the extent of the damage Israel’s punitive air strikesinflicted on Lebanon impressed upon Syrian leaders just how […]

Sarkozy’s Leverage Problem

It’s rare to find balanced analysis regarding Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign policy, no less so in France than in the U.S. The guy has a way of polarizing people to the point where most either love him or hate him, but lose all ability to calmly assess what he’s doing. Part of that has to do with Sarkozy’s frenetic nature itself, which lends itself more to caricature than to calm reflection. Max Bergmann’s analysis at Democracy Arsenal of this John Vinocur IHT column, though, is an exception to the rule, mainly because Bergmann nails the circumstancial opportunity that Sarkozy has tried […]

4 More Years of Foreign Policy Disunity?

Just what we need, another administration that doesn’t speak with a unified voice on foreign policy. But, seriously, I don’t put much stock in the idea that the rift between the Clinton and Obama camps will carry over into U.S. foreign policy if Hillary is ensconced at State. I have no doubt, as Ackerman’s article suggests, that Obama loyalists with foreign policy resumes are worried about competing for jobs in a Hillary-run State Department. But when I read that “some Obama loyalists wonder whether the same people who attacked Obama on foreign policy during the primaries can implement Obama’s agenda […]

NO JOY AT THE SUMMIT — To French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s disappointment, Barack “One-president-at-a-time” Obama stuck to his word and refused to meet with any of the world leaders who attended last week’s economic summit in Washington. The French pressed hard, arguing that as current president of the European Union Sarkozy had hoped to be the first transatlantic leader to meet the American president-elect. Throughout the week-end, Sarkozy had a plane on standby to leave for Chicago at a moment’s notice. But no summons came from the Windy City. Meanwhile, there was no sign in Washington of the warm relations […]

Sarkozy Plays to Type

The problem with the personality types that often make their way to the summit of power is that they are very often unfamiliar with the concept, let alone the dangers, of overplaying one’s hand. So Nicolas Sarkozy decides to throw a follow up summit conference on the financial crisis with British Prime Minister ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, to the great surprise of the assembled leaders at this past weekend’s summit in Washington, who had agreed to at least a working plan on how to follow up on regulating global financial markets, if nothing else. The choice of British prime ministers […]

Global arms sales continue to grow, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), with the value of worldwide weapons contracts rising by an estimated 9.2 percent in 2007. The CRS put the value of major arms transfer agreements at almost $60 billion, up from $54.9 billion the year before. The United States accounted for over 41 percent of the sales, or approximately $24.8 billion, a significant increase from the 2006 figure of $16.7 billion. Russia still ranked second, but the value of its arms transfer agreements actually fell from $14.3 billion in 2006 to $10.4 billion in 2007. Conversely, the […]

Sec. of State Clinton?

I’m not going to get into the habit of discussing transition rumors for the Obama administration. But one of the major criticisms directed at both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during their primary campaign duel was the fact that neither of them had much foreign policy experience. So this doesn’t strike me as a particularly inspired choice from the perspective of “hands on” foreign policy chops. That it’s driven primarily by domestic political maneuvering is a point that won’t be lost on the world, and seems like a clumsy initial gesture reinforcing the common wisdom that in the U.S., foreign […]

The End of the Euro-American Age?

I’m grateful to the Atlanticist for republishing Steven Philip Kramer’s Strategic Forum article, The Absence of Europe, because otherwise I would have missed it, and it’s really a must read for anyone interested in U.S.-EU relations, EU defense and EU common foreign policy. It’s a thorough, balanced and non-dogmatic treatment of the many challenges that the EU must resolve if it really wants to assume a partnership role in international security, with all the responsibility that entails. I’ve flagged recent progress on EU defense, but as Kramer points out, there are fundamental insitutional impasses that need to be opened before […]

LONDON — Until recently, Europe’s politicians held their noses when they spoke of the United States. Now they are falling over each other to associate themselves with the president-elect, to attach themselves to the most attractive, most popular and soon-to-be most powerful man on the planet. Everyone wants a piece of Barack Obama. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has more reason than most to seek Obama’s favor. Under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Britain was regarded as Washington’s closest ally in the war against Iraq, the war against the Taliban and what was once called the war against terrorism. Brown […]

Serbia’s Surprising Turn Westward

Only eight months after losing Kosovo, their cultural and historical heartland, Serbs seem strangely passive these days. At this time last year, as negotiations over Kosovo’s final status reached an impasse, Serbs felt bitter and humiliated by the pariah-status they were dealt by the international community. So their initial reaction to Kosovo’s declaration of independence — and its quick recognition by Western capitals — this past February was predictable: amidst a crowd of 100,000 peaceful protesters (more than 1% of the population), a few hundred “extremists” attacked and ignited several embassies of Kosovo-friendly governments, including that of Kosovo’s strongest ally, […]

Fixing the National Security System

I just wanted to flag Richard Weitz’s WPR column from last week, which ran on Election Day and might have gotten overshadowed by the day’s historic events. But the piece is really worth a look, because it presents the findings of a non-partisan research group — the Project on National Security Reform — that Richard headed which used exhaustive case study analysis to assess the country’s national security system. And the conclusion was that it functions inconsistently at best, and often as a result of non-reproducible factors like personal relationships across agencies or individual initiative. The piece is timely especially […]

America and Europe on Veterans Day

Alexander Watson has a thought-provoking op-ed in the NY Times on how today’s holiday is observed in Europe (Armistice Day) compared to Stateside (Veteran’s Day). It resonated with a moving post I read this morning by Jean-Dominique Merchet at Secret Défense about the last battle of WWI, an ill-fated river-crossing ordered and carried out the morning of Nov. 11 despite the French command knowing that the Armistice would take effect at 11am that day. And while the symbollism of the armistice saving the continent from the brink — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — […]

With the U.S. presidential election finally decided, attention has now turned to just how President-elect Barack Obama will handle American foreign policy. As a candidate, Obama often displayed the clearsighted vision of a foreign policy realist, while embracing the rhetorical flourishes of an idealist. In WPR’s latest biweekly feature issue, two prominent foreign policy analysts examine the challenges and opportunities that await The Obama Presidency. In Wilsonian Idealist or Progressive Realist? Nikolas Gvosdev, former editor of the National Interest, considers the kinds of “80 percent solutions” the Obama administration might be forced to consider, and whether it will be willing […]

Obama’s Foreign Policy: Challenges & Opportunities

In case you haven’t seen WPR’s front page today, we’ve got two great articles assessing the possibilities of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. The first, by Thomas P.M. Barnett, takes a grand strategy approach and discusses the rule sets a successful Obama presidency must define. The second, by Nikolas Gvosdev, takes a realist approach and examines the possible deals an Obama administration might be forced to consider making. Two keen and insightful analysts, two fascinating pieces. Quite a pleasure having them here at WPR.

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