Montag, 21. Dezember 2009

Its really an axis

Its been quite interesting news today. As a matter of fact shortly before christmas, international politics is quite fascinating, though not necessarily in a reassuring way.

The Wall Street Journal has it that police at Bangkok Airport discovered a weapons shipment to Iran coming from North Korea. The article raises some questions and can be found here:

One of the questions would be, what we are actually trying to achieve by talking to either North Korea or Iran? Despite all the tangible process in the six-party-talks with North Korea it does not exactly appear to me as if North Korea would obey to other rules in international relations. Let us take, for instance, not selling weapons to a country on which an arms embargo was imposed by the United Nations Security Council. Then again one might remember that there also is an arms embargo imposed on North Korea itself. That might force these two outcasts to buy and sell among themselves but that is not inteded by the UNSC resolutions. Some day, we are going to have to do something about actually enforcing arms embargos.

If one wonders what wonderful things these states do with weapons, one could turn to the many artillery systems being pointed at the capital of South Korea, or to Hamas, Hisbollah or any other Iranian supplied proxy organisation for terror and propaganda or simply look at another news story of today; this time coming from the New York Times.

It looks like Iran uses its weapons for a show of force in neighbouring Iraq. Its not only an occupation of an oil field, it is also, dare I say it, a cause for war. This incursion could be seen as an attack. Actually it is one, but we won't call it one, because, well, then we would have to go to war with Iran. We, meaning the Iraqis, which at some point in the equation will lead to us.

But it appears to me that we are going to have to draw a line in the sand. Actually there is one, the Iranians just crossed it, but nonetheless: There is only so much the world can accept before Ahmadinejad and the thugs in his regime believe they can get away with everything. A nucelar device for instance. Its time to get tough

Donnerstag, 1. Oktober 2009

A Bridge too far--Obama in Denmark

Honestly, I like Obama. When he came into office, he had an impressive way of multitasking: not only was he able to take on different issues at the same time, he also seemed to establish leadership on all of these issues. That was a good start and underscored all the abilities he was praised for in the first place. In recent weeks, however, I began to be a bit disappointed. Not only did he allow the healthcare-debate to drag on without a clear focus, he also avoids a clear decision on the future of the mission in Afghanistan. In the latter case, he wants to be sure that the U.S. is having the right approach and strategy before deciding whether or not to put more troops into the field. All this might be a lack of clear focus but in an enviroment like this, it amounts to a stunning lack of leadership. His seemingly endless efforts to sketch out the middleground on all issues might be worthwhile when you run for city mayor, but in a president its a no-go. Decisions very simply need to be taken, even when it may not be totally clear from the outset, where the majority of the people will eventually wind up. Why is that? Because for a middleground to exist in politics, positions will have to be taken beforehand on both sides of the political spectrum. But getting in on a bar fight and declare your intention no to act is the exact opposite of leadership: flying to Denmark in the middle of two pressing debates to stump for the Olympics in Chicago sends the wrong signal and is very simply an issue too much, a bridge too far.

Montag, 21. September 2009


Die hiesige Bundestagswahl mag einem bisweilen ganz erheblich Spanisch vorkommen. Mir zumindest geht das so: Die Absage der FDP an eine Ampelkoalition kann kaum überraschen - und ist nicht völlig unverständlich, nachdem die SPD der FDP Raubtierkapitalismus vorwarf und so deutlich machte, dass es eigentlich auch zu wenig Gemeinsamkeiten für eine Koalition gibt - wohl aber verrät die Reaktion der SPD darauf viel über die Sozialdemokraten: Die meinen nämlich, die Absage der FDP nicht ernst nehmen zu müssen, denn über Koalitionen werde erst nach der Wahl am 27. September entschieden. Fair enough. Aber ist dann nicht ein geringer, ganz wenig ausschlaggebender Zweifel angebracht, was die Absage der SPD an die Linke angeht? Ein ganz klassischer Fall doppelter Standards...

Dienstag, 7. Juli 2009

Leaving Without Quitting?

Sarah Palin really has a capactiy to amaze me. Under different circumstances I would consider that a big plus, but in her case the result has been a little different. It is an interesting notion anyhow to try to sell a resignation not as quitting but as a step forward but that is the smallest part. Using her facebook-account the accuses the media and Washington of "not getting" that all this "is about country", somehow implying that resigning before entering the lame-duck phase of a term is the most patriotic thing to do. And that questioning her decision would somehow be non-patriotic. There is, dear Governor Palin, a reason for a term lasting four years and the contraints of a lame-duck period in office might at times be difficult to overcome but are an essential part of a check and balances system. And questioning the decisions of an elected official is not about forgetting the country, but about putting the country first. Questioning decisions is an essential part of democracy, and being held accountable and at times to a higher standard is what the office brings with it. The media got it this time. Sarah Palin on the contrary displayed a questionable understanding of the American constitution.

Samstag, 20. Juni 2009

Iran: Now comes the tough part

The Supreme Leader's speech yesterday was indicative: The government, or more precisley the regime is going to crack down on the opposition if protests continue. The question hanging in the air in the last couple of hours was, whether Moussavi would eventually back down and end the protests with it. I hoped that he would not and now it looks like he is out and going to challenge the leadership. But in the face of yesterday's friday prayer by Ali Khamenei the question is: what next?

I am sure the regime is going to crackdown on the protests and if necessary by force. Over the past couple of years Iran has slowly but consistently moved away from being an Islamic Republic to a more traditional authoritarian state model. Most notably, Khamenei's credentials in religious thought have always been comparatively weak and Ahmadinejad has no religious credentials at all. More importantly, he has risen from the Pasadaran, the Revolutinary Guards and in recent years elevated more and more people with the same background into the inner circle of the regime. The clergy has been sidelined for quite a while now and the Islamic republic has turned more into a military regime, the most important power centres being in the hands of Ahmadinejad's henchmam. Given this background and the fact that Ahmadinejad's power rests on the Pasadaran and the Basij militias the regime will almost certainly use force, its their common background, their power base and the most immediately available tool. Nonetheless the regime's forces are outnumbered and in order to prevail for the regime, it will have to be a bloody crackdown.

So much rests on a wildcard that needs to be more carefully watched: on which side is the Iranian clergy going to end up? Will it back the regime and thereby even foster their own marginalisation or will they seek to reassert their position by backing the opposition and getting a stake in the future system of Iran? Let us watch closely, its the least we can do

Samstag, 13. Juni 2009

Not by a Whisker - Ahmadinejad "wins"

Ahmadinejad is back and seems to have secured a solidified majority. 62,63 percent have voted for Ahmadinejad according to the Iranian interior ministry and this result should not go by unquestioned due to a couple of reasons.
First, the main opposition candidate, Moussavi, received nearly 34 percent which is a strikingly weak result. More so, as most observers feared that the opposition vote would be split between the major opposition candidates. But taken together all other opposition candidates made up nearly 3 percent of the vote, bringing the entire opposition to just around 37 percent. With such a strong lead among the opposition candidates the most likely outcome would have been a run-off election between Moussavi and Ahmadinejad, apparently that won't happen now. The weak result is even more striking when one turns to the voter turnout: 85 percent of voters participated – a number that should not be taken literally due to the many flaws in the Iranian election law, of which one is that birth certificates are being used to identify voters – which is a relatively high turnout. Such mobilisation was also expected to benefit Moussavi and not Ahmadinejad. The numbers are, at best, confusing.
Second, given all these numbers, one wonders what went wrong. First off all, Ahmadinejad might really have had success in mobilising his base in the countryside. But I very much doubt that such a mobilising success would have taken him above sixty percent. And I doubt that all the shortfalls of Ahmadinejad's domestic policy – notably his failure to arrest the economic downturn and foster more employment – left him totally unharmed at the ballot box. Instead it seems to me that Iran today has slid even deeper into the grip of the Revolutionary Guards. It has always been an autocracy ot theocracy for that matter, but in recent years it appears that the Revolutionary Guards have really tightened their grip on the power centres of the country. Four years ago they already had manipulated the election result. Today history seems to repeat itself: Again candidates were dismissed and state institutions set to vote for the sitting president the revolutionary guards being one of them. After all, this is not a democracy that called for the elections.
Third, where does all that take us? The youth in Iran, the students of Iran do not support the current regime. They may not yet be in the majority but the tide will turn sooner or later. Meanwhile this might have been the regimes last chance to approach the growing, disenfranchised youth. Following the Chatami and the Moussavi disappointments they will almost certainly turn the back on the current regime. Iran has been poised for an overthrow of its regime for a long time and despite the legitimacy Ahmadinejad will now claim this vote has accelerated the regime's decline.

Mittwoch, 3. Juni 2009

Eritrea: Making it to the Axis of Evil?

Eritrea has come a long way since it regained independence back in 1993, when it was welcomed to the international community (and to the UN for that matter) and its president Issais Afeworki was heralded as one of "Africa's new leaders". But as time passed, all these new leaders gave reason for concern at one point or another, be it Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda or Issais Afeworki. But whereas Uganda and Ethiopia managed to stay on good terms with the international community, irrespective of what happened at home, Eritrea has become a real headache for the leaders worldwide. Not only is it still in war mode for another round of hostilities with Ethiopia, it also allegedly meddles in Somali affairs, trying to keep Ethiopia bogged down on its southern border. But with the African Union and the United Nations trying to bolster the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia that stance is becoming an increasingly grave concern. Eritrea reportedly supports the Islamist al-Shabaab movement in Somalia with weapons and cash and al-Shabaab fights the Transitional Government, which is weak yet internationally recognised and protected by an African Union peace mission. So considering the years that passed since independence, one may well take a look at the record:

In 1993 Eritrea started off as a darling of the international development community, ever since it has managed to offend nearly the entire international community; it fought one of the most sensless wars in history with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 (with an estimated casulaty number somewhere between 80.000 and 100.000), supported the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, called the United States its 'arch-enemy' and now supports the al-Shabaab, while the US is debating whether to add Eritrea to the state sponsors of terrorism. Most recent news: the African Union is calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Eritrea for its support of al-Shabaab. If the African Union calls for sanctions on a fellow African country, something must be horribly wrong in that country (lets remember the AU found it hard to condem Mugabe). Its about time for the great and proud people of Eritrea to get a leadership that they deserve, it certainly is not Afeworki.

Freitag, 29. Mai 2009

The Scarcity of Land in Somalia

I have long argued that the conflict in Somalia and its violent offsprings - like piracy and insurgencies against ill-fated transitional governments - have been fuelled by the scarcity of fertile land. In the Somali setting, land has effectively become a source of conflict, fostered by oftentimes violent competition over access to fertile grounds. The Bonn International Center on Conversion (BICC) published one of my latest pieces on the Somali conflict, in which I try to explain the link between the Somali conflict and the land issue. It can be obtained at:

Montag, 25. Mai 2009

Liz Cheney Defending the Past in the Present

Liz Cheney made the strangest of all arguments on this weekends CNN State of the Union, repeating her fathers talking point that the release of the torture memos made the US less safe by enabling terrorists to prepare for these techniques. But I was left wondering: Would it not make sense to have the terrorists train for so called enhanced interrogation techniques that the United States are unlikely to employ ever again so that terrorists would at least be tied up for the time being and stop training for suicide attacks?

On a more serious note: The two Cheneys managed to redirect the debate on torture, away from the prosecution of those who decided to conduct torture to whether or not the current administration is headed down the right path. Having such a debate is laudable but at the end of the day there should be no doubt: It is not pendering to Europe to uphold the principles of the rule of law. If Cheney indeed thinks that it is, someone needs to redirect the debate to the issue of prosecution.

Dienstag, 28. April 2009

At a Crossroads - NATO's future reconsidered

My latest piece is just out - the Journal of American Foreign Policy Interests was kind enough to accept the article called "Finally at a Certain Crossroads - Three Critical Challenges for NATO". The essay deals with the necessary debate on NATO's future in a more fundamental manner, it argues that NATO needs to redefine nearly all its relationships: from the Partnership for Peace to allies and foes alike.
More details can be obtained in the internet, of course:

Montag, 27. April 2009

The Decider. Obama's first one hundred days

Former US president George Bush often referred to himself as the "decider". This stance led him to invest his political capital only in projects he really believed in, which considerably contributed to the perception that he did not govern in a bipartisan manner, listened to his allies foreign and abroad and finally led to serious opposition both within and outside the US. One hundred days in office, and the Obama administration did make a jolly good start and delivered some sort of a change, a departure from the Bush-years. Obama's ability to seek the initative in various fields leads commentators to question whether his pace will pay off or is as reckless as it is self-destructive. But he certainly has gained the initative on nearly all fields, delivered on a couple of his promises and seems to treat each policy area with the same amount of attention, leaving much of the details up to Congress. Even more than his predecessor he has proven to be a decider. Indeed he moves so quickly that the GOP finds it hard to attack consistently on a single front, a hundred days in the opposition and it is still hard to identify, how the GOP wants to make a comeback, even harder than 99 days ago. But afterall that is a change in style rather than in content.

Montag, 13. April 2009

Blessing Turkey

President Obama's first trip abroad was hailed as an impressing success: And indeed it was. He rebranded the United States in the eyes of many and almost certainly in the eyes of those, where the US has suffered the most in recent years. He convinced France and Germany to support his Afghanistan strategy and deploy more troops (although only few troops, that is no small success, considering how reluctant the Western European nations are to engage in a theatre that they already consider a quagmire to say the least) and he received general agreement to his economic policy at the G20 in London. But his short trip to Turkey left me wondering: Why would the United States officially support Turkey's membership aspirations with regard to the European Union and at the same time emphasize that Turkey is a Muslim country and hence different - this difference is the only reason he was able to make a point by going to Turkey. So Soner Capagtay was absolutely right in elaborating in more detail today:

"President Obama's April 6 speech to the Turkish parliament in Ankara has addressed Washington's concerns over Turkey's turn from the West. In his speech, Obama tackled the erosion of Turkey's liberal democratic values. He also took up Turkey's recent foreign policy differences with the United States. Lately, a civilizational view of world politics has formed in Ankara, relativizing good and bad according to religion and splitting the Turks from the West. In the latest incident, at the Davos meeting in January, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chided Israel's president for "killing people" -- and then returned to Ankara to host the vice president of Sudan. Since September 11, Turkey is fact becoming a "Muslim" nation, and a member of the "Muslim World." The only way to counter this conception -- as well as Turkey's turn towards illiberal politics at home and a civilizational view in foreign policy -- is to emphasize Turkey's Western vocation. By speaking strongly in favor of a Western and European Turkey, Obama did exactly that, putting Turkey back in the West."

See the rest of his remarks on:

Samstag, 28. März 2009

Saturday Morning

Finally, a part of what I read this morning:

Freitag, 20. März 2009

The Bush Doctrine: Why it may work in Iran

The Bush Doctrine has not exactly been heralded for an unquestioned success, quite on the contrary the doctrine is largely conceived as a major foreign policy blunder of the past eight years. This common wisdom might, as common wisdom usually is, be premature. In fact, recent years have witnessed interesting developments and some show signs of the lasting impact the exertion of the doctrine may have. Despite early and modest successes – the revolution in Lebanon, modest reforms in Saudi Arabia and Libya's return into the international community – some long-term impacts are now beginning to show. One of the perhaps most important developments includes Iran: The regime has been unwilling to undertake major reforms and has increasingly cracked down on the reform movement, closed NGOs, women rights groups and newspapers and banned more and more liberals from running in elections. Amid growing demographic and economic challenges, the regimes very survival is now at stake and here Iraq's growing success might indeed be bad news to the Iranian regime. Ali al-Sistani is now the most influential and most respected Shiite cleric, replacing Iran Supreme revolutionary leader Ali Chamenei, whose religious credentials have always been a bit murky. Al-Sistani advocates democracy and is far more liberal than Chamenei he commands the respect, religious authority and appeal to challenge the most fundamental principle of the peculiar Iranian regime, namely that in the absence of the prophets religious leaders can build and run a state more effectively than a purely democratic society. And the situation in Iraq is now providing the empirical evidence to support this claim. The only thing that will eventually bring the Iranian regime down is a revolution: but revolutions are by their very nature impossible to predict. But it might very well be that it was George Bush who threw the first domino and that Iran will fall in the end.

Samstag, 24. Januar 2009

Please, Don't Let Carter Guide You

Arthur Herman aptly summarised my personal nightmare scenario of what could become the foreign policy legacy of Barack Obama: A return of Jimmy Carter's ill-advised stance toward the rest of the world, Herman's article is hence worth a closer look:

"But today? When Iraq, the most egregious example of Bush’s supposedly reckless zeal to go it alone, is turning out to be a success, reaffirming the rightness of America’s cause and the soundness of the postwar vision? Why adopt, today, the arguments and proposals of those who still pretend that Iraq has been nothing but a sordid failure, or who hold that the fact of its success proves nothing whatsoever about who we are and what we stand for?
Some of Obama’s early choices for high-level foreign-policy positions—particularly General James Jones as National Security Adviser and the incumbent Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense—suggest that the President-elect may be reconsidering his priorities. One can only hope so. In his book Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger writes that the experience of history is a statesman’s one sure guide. As the historical experience of the last 30 years has demonstrated over and over again, and as the historical experience of the last eight years underlines once more with blinding clarity, Carterism is not the way."

Freitag, 23. Januar 2009

Gaza - Turning A War of Necessity into a Strategic Victory

Since the clouds of war over Gaza began to disappear, much is being talked about whether the recent war in Gaza was necessary or not. Well it was, simply because no country could allow a neighbour - state or not - to fire rockets on its cities, deliberately targeting civilians. But there are some issues related to the conflict that have not made headlines but should be kept in mind, when talking about the war.

- This war was not only necessary, Israel even fought it in the right fashion. The increasing range of Hamas' rockets turns a small border threat into a wider strategic threat. Drawing conclusions from the 2006 war with Hisbollah - when Nasrallah said that he would not have abducted Israeli soldiers had he known how aggressively Israel would respond - and the Cold War, Israel had to adopt a strategy of Massive Retaliation, making it clear that every attack would be followed by a massive conventional response in order to deter future attacks. Only by such a strong response can future casualities be prevented, though the question at this juncture remains, whether a strategy to prevent nuclear war, can be adopted to a conventional setting.

- Only once would I like to see a comment on TV asking what would have been if Hamas would not have smuggled weapons and ammunition through its tunnels but medicine and food. Of course Hamas never did, instead it used the tunnels to smuggle weapons and outsourced responsibility for the population of Gaza to Israel. The Israeli government understandably has no intention of helping its enemy by providing the services, food and humanitarian relief that is the responsibility of Hamas in the first place. But instead of supplying its people, Hamas was more interested in an arms build-up.

- The question of proportionality, whether the death of five Israelis justifies the death of more than a thousand Palestinians is especially odd in the German context. The federal court recently ruled that the German authorities were not allowed to shut down airplanes in case of hijacking, because the lives of 120 passengers could not be weighed against more than a thousand people on the ground, whose lives would be saved by such an act. This decision was hailed by the German left, the very same group that now accuses Israel for a supposedly disproportional response. A classic case of double standards on the left.

Dienstag, 20. Januar 2009

The Untold Story of George W. Bush's Africa Legacy

Today, when Barack Obama was sworn in, the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, officially became the subject of history. And while most contemporary commentators lament the Bush years as largely squandered ones, both in the international and domestic arena, it might be worthwhile to take a closer look. There is one policy field that has attracted virtually no attention at all, although it might be one of George W. Bushs most impressive achievements: The United States' Africa policy.
George W. Bush deserves credit for the United States' return to Africa, a continent that has largely been neglected by his predecessor Bill Clinton. Once the US pulled out of the ill-fated United Nations intervention in Somalia, Clinton signed the Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD 25) that led to the United States total retreat from Africa. In PDD 25 Clinton ordered that the United States would only intervene in Africa when the national interest of the US would be at stake. It was against this backdrop that the US stood idly by when a genocide in Rwanda unfolded and crises from Liberia to the Congo called for international action. Clinton's 1998 response to the bombing of the US embassies in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi provided a case study in proportional responses. The missiles he fired on alleged al-Qaeda training camps in the Sudan and Afghanistan did little to deter al-Qaeda and only underlined his unwillingness to engage seriously in African affairs.
With George W. Bush the picture could hardly be more different: a regular guest in Africa, he has elevated development assistance to Africa to a serious foreign policy field. Indeed, due to Bush's Africa policy, development now complements the other two d's: diplomacy and defence. Under his leadership development assistance has more than doubled from a marginal 10 billion to more than 22 billion. And his anti-AIDS programmes have fostered progress in countering the disease, indeed they are ideal types of how bureaucratic hurdles can be bypassed to make development assistance more effective. Like it or not: In Africa President Bush saved thousands of lives.
And finally he established the first regional command for Africa: AFRICOM. The Pentagon no longer deals with Africa within the inappropriate structures of EUCOM, but has a single command focusing on Africa, helping African governments in training African militaries to enable it to bring what has once been termed as African solutions to the African continent. Moreover, AFRICOM has a unique structure with a State Department official being second in charge and a huge focus on development assistance. In fact, President Bush is the first American President who actually formulated a strategic approach to Africa. He should be applauded for that achievement.

Freitag, 16. Januar 2009

Surprise: History is Going to Treat Bush Nicely

It was about time to set the record straight on George W. Bush: We will miss him. Though it is certainly not a popular stance, Patrick Keller and I wrote a little piece on Bush's presidency, successes and its long-term impact on US foreign policy and the world for that matter. It has been published online by The Weekly Standard.
Take a look yourself:

Dienstag, 6. Januar 2009

To Moscow with Love - Crazy Ivan turns into Foreign Policy Doctrine

I have long thought abut getting seriously into Russian foreign policy as an academic profession. But while I could always explain the rationale behind Chinese foreign policy or any other major player for that matter - though I did not always agree with what they were doing in the first place - I never quite understood what considerations actually drove Russian foreign policy. On the contrary, much of Russian foreign policy today seems to be exactly what Alec Baldwin faced in The Hunt for Red October: A Crazy Ivan, a sudden, unexpected and apparently random move totally ad odds with the course laid in by the leadership.

But certainly Russia's foreign policy has turned onto a more assertive course in recent years in what was fuelled by record revenues of oil and gas exports. Its move into Georgia proper, its aggressive stance towards the United States, its reinforced ties with Venezuela and Russia, its now openly stated doctrine that it will protect its citizens in foreign countries by force if necessary and last not least unproductive role in the Iranian nuclear dispute clearly indicate that Russia wants to regain strategic losses suffered after the end of the Cold War. It is, however, set on a course bound to fail, because of two major, and intertwined miscalculations:

- First, it appears that Russian foreign policy makers seem to believe that since the country lost its status as a world power virtually over night, it should be as easy to regain that status, which is why Russia often employs means that might enforce its stance in the short-run but seriously harm its interests over the long-run. It might also explain why Russia choose the military card in Georgia, because the military would be able to yield gains in the short term; diplomatic channels would have required patience that the Kremlin apparently lacks on its way to reassert what it thinks is its historic destiny.

- Second, it appears that Russian foreign policy is also driven by the fear that relying on diplomacy and other long term means would widen the gap between the United States and Russia. The gap, however, widens as new major players like China and India carefully maneuvre themselves in the midst of the United States and Russia, which leaves Russia no longer as second among equals, but as one of a couple of major players. This perception gains momentum as other states, such as Brazil, are closing in on Russia and seem to be willing to take on leading roles in their respective environments, too.