Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Osama bin-Laden News Update

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on March 30, 2010

Over the past nine years, U.S. intelligence has been stupefied about Osama bin-Laden’s exact location.  The American public is told that the long-bearded imam is somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border, a remote and mountainous area that is virtually impossible to navigate by foot without a full military battalion.  Others believe that he is hiding in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier, the same region that is routinely bombarded by American bombs on a weekly basis.

Well apparently, we have some new information to report.  According to Newsweek’s Declassified, the world’s number one terrorist is not only alive and well, but is also under firm and direct control over Al’Qaeda operations.  And who is the informant providing this info?  None other than a low-level Al’Qaeda foot soldier who has been talking with the FBI for months, Raja Lharsib Khan.  Never mind that Khan is providing the FBI with basic information of questionable validity:

“Contrary to some intelligence reports…bin Laden…continues to be very much in charge of his organization and is personally directing terrorist operations, according to excerpts of the conversation that are recounted in the FBI affidavit.  ‘About bin Laden…he’s perfect, healthy, and he’s leading and he’s giving the orders … he’s OK, he’s in safe hands.”

Personally, I take this new information about Osama bin-Laden with a grain of salt.  First of all, why is the FBI publishing remarks made by a low-level Al’Qaeda fighter?  If Khan actually met bin-Laden several times in a face-to-face capacity, then maybe his comments to FBI interrogators would be more credible.  But as Newsweek’s article makes clear, Khan never graced bin-Laden with his presence.  He is merely relaying a conversation he had with another AQ operative, Ilyas Kashmiri.

Second of all, Khan’s testimony about bin-Laden is total hearsay.  What he is essentially doing is disclosing what another Al’Qaeda member told him in private.  This statement wouldn’t hold up in the most menial of cases, let alone the biggest terrorist manhunt in U.S. history.  Perhaps Kashmiri was lying to Khan during these conservations in order to portray OBL as a man who is still resilient.

Finally, if we look at the attacks that have occurred over the past year, you will see the near absence of bin-Laden and his cohorts.  Incidents of Islamic terrorism over the past year have largely been planned and perpetuated by Al’Qaeda affiliates (like AQ in Yemen and Al’Shabab in Somalia) or by isolated individuals, like Maj. Nadal Hassan in Fort Hood, Texas.  Al’Qaeda ideology and guidance may be used for inspiration, but I would be really surprised if OBL and his inner circle in Pakistan actually had the capacity to order these operations.

If bin-Laden is in total control, then why didn’t he claim credit for the Christmas day bombing of a transatlantic passenger plane?  Easy…Al’Qaeda Central is getting outflanked by its own affiliates.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Newsweek’s Declassified**


Ayad Allawi Edges Out P.M. Nouri al-Maliki

Posted in Iraq by Dan on March 28, 2010

The wait in Iraq is over.  According to official results from Iraqi press, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has edged out the incumbent P.M. Nouri al-Maliki in the parliamentary elections.

And boy what a close election it was.  Allawi’s coalition barely managed to defeat Maliki’s State of Law umbrella group (Allawi received 91 seats to Maliki’s 89).  In many ways, this 2 seat difference bears similarities to the Bush-Gore saga that plagued the United States for months.  Maliki is already complaining about voter fraud and intimidation, and his camp for the last 24 hours has been calling for a recount across the country.

This may be construed as both good and bad.  On the one hand, Maliki’s unwillingness to accept the tally shows how difficult it will be for Allawi to forge a functioning coalition government in the next few months.  Maliki may not cooperate, and the other Shia parties that were left in the dust may resort to violence on the street if their interests are not met.  Yet on the other hand, the fact that Iraq’s election was so close for so long shows the maturation of Iraqi democracy.  It sounds cliché, but millions of Iraqis braved the violence in order to stand in line and cast their ballots for a more hopeful future.  And from the looks of it, Iraqis have a wide range of interests.

Perhaps the most important success that we can take from this election is the contest’s legitimacy.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time that all main sectarian groupings (Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds) voted in mass, which is a far and welcome cry from the 2006 parliamentary election (when most Sunnis boycotted the vote entirely).

What about the victor?  Well, Allawi’s triumph is a very significant development for the United States.  Compared to the other candidates, Allwai is vehemently anti-Iranian.  Tehran’s proxies in Iraq, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and parts of al-Maliki’s government, were trounced by a broad and cross-sectarian list of politicians.  In fact, the sectarian and religious parties that used to dominate Iraqi politics are quickly being replaced by parties that take on a more nationalistic tone.  And with nationalism at an all-time high, disengagement from Iraq is that much easier for the White House.

There is still a long way to go.  Iraq’s political wrangling has only just begun.  Allawi still has to bargain behind closed doors with the Kurds to form a semi-functional government, which could be months in the making. But if the final tally is any indication, Iraqis may be moving on from sectarian division.

P.S: Let’s not forget that 40 people died in twin bombings, just as the votes were being counted.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**

The U.S.-Russia Reset Finally Paying Off?

Posted in European-Russian Relations, Nuclear Proliferation by Dan on March 26, 2010

It looks like President Barack Obama finally has something to put on his foreign-policy resume.  This past Wednesday, U.S. officials in the White House and Russian officials in Moscow have both confirmed that a new strategic nuclear reduction treaty is within days of being completed.  The details of the accord are still sketchy (God forbid information be released to the general public), but there are a few things that we do know.

First off, the treaty explicitly states that both parties (the United States and Russia) are required to decrease their nuclear arsenals to approximately 1,500 warheads.  I know this sounds like an exceedingly high number, but it’s still a pretty noteworthy improvement from the last agreement Washington and Moscow signed in 2002, which tolerated up to 2,200 operational warheads.

The 2010 treaty also has a legal provision that makes sure both sides are actually complying with the law.  This too, is a great step forward.  An agreement is only effective if teeth and enforcement are included.  Otherwise, a party could renege on the deal whenever it wants to, rendering the whole concept of negotiation a huge waste of time and effort.  This is why the 2002 Bush-era provision with Russia was questionable at best…there was no incentive for the United States and Russia to follow through on the basic tenants.

So that is about it at this point in time.  Again, officials in the State Department are making this story rather difficult for reporters, perhaps because the treaty still has to be ratified in the U.S. Senate (which is always a tough battle, because as everyone knows, Senators always have to make a name for themselves on the national scene).  But yet again, if this prospective accord does slide through the Senate, this would represent the first true achievement for the Obama administration on the foreign-policy front.  Politically, the nuclear deal would give President Obama a solid diplomatic win for his portfolio, perhaps on par with his health-care reform victory a week earlier.  And symbolically, the ratification would demonstrate to the rest of the world that the United States is commitment to disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.  If there is anything that Washington could use to convince its partners to sign off on new sanctions against the Iranian Government, it is this sort of sincerity and credibility.

Stay tuned for more.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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What Pakistan Is Going to Demand in Washington

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on March 24, 2010

As the U.S. Military prepares for another Marjah-style offensive in Kandahar Province later in the year, the Obama administration finds itself in a hole over how to conclude the Afghan war in a successful manner.  Analysts and government officials have long argued that defeating the Taliban cannot be achieved through military power alone, yet Washington is still reluctant to engage in direct peace talks with insurgent leaders.  So with a crossroads full steam ahead, maybe this is the reason why President Obama is reaching out to the Pakistanis this week.

On March 24, a high-level Pakistani delegation will find itself traveling to the United States with a warm American welcome.  While the meeting is being sold to the press as a fresh start between Washington and the Pakistani Government after nine years of give-and-take (the administration is using the phrase “strategic dialogue”), the main mission will most certainly be how to secure Afghanistan and keep the Taliban under wraps.

The United States has reason to be optimistic.  After all, Pakistan recently captured the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 commander- Mullah Baradar- in Karachi, a possible sign that Islamabad may be changing its tune towards Islamic militants in general.  Yet this would be naïve, even if this naivety is what we would like to believe.  Geopolitics is a more likely reason for Baradar’s detention.  With a post-American Afghanistan closer by the day, Pakistan wants to make sure it comes out on top, and arresting a top enemy combatant is the surest way to do that.

Obsessed with India’s increased stature in South Asia, Islamabad is intent on sponsoring an Afghan Government that is friendly (if not supportive) to Pakistani interests.  And with Baradar’s demise, the Pakistanis can come to Washington with some valuable ammunition.  Pakistan’s message to the United States will probably be something like this: ‘help us achieve Pakistani superiority in Afghanistan, and we will help reign in the Taliban leadership in exchange.’

Like it or not, Pakistan still holds most of the cards. It’s pretty clear that the United States will be unable to pacify- or at least diminish the violence- in Afghanistan without Islamabad’s support. In fact, many of America’s recent successes against the Taliban have been given to them on a silver-platter by the Pakistanis. Without intelligence sharing from the Pakistani Army and the ISI, Baradar would probably still be at large in Karachi, free to move wherever he chooses.

In light of all this, I hope the meeting between the U.S. and Pakistan goes well.  With Israel giving the United States trouble over Jewish settlements, and with Russia and China dragging their heels on a new sanctions resolution on Iran (as well as Turkey and Brazil), the last thing Washington needs is another foreign-policy frustration.

Washington needs to make unpleasant sacrifices if it wants to at least get this war under control.  Ensuring that their interests will be represented in any future Afghan Government may be the best way to convince Pakistan to expand the fight against Al’Qaeda and its ilk.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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A George W. Bush Update

Posted in United States by Dan on March 23, 2010

We haven’t heard much from former President President George W. Bush since he left office.  Rumors are that the 43rd President is working on a memoir that will surely be a New York Times bestseller once its released.  The content of the book is still up on the air, but I’m assuming that Bush’s piece will probably be similar to most memoirs.  For instance, I’m guessing that Bush will reveal his most personal thoughts from his presidency, including his dramatic time as America’s Commander-in-Chief after the September 11 terrorist attacks.  The war in Iraq and the financial crash will might be part of his story as well.

But that is for another day.  Today, I just discovered where the former President is…in Haiti, with his predecessor Bill Clinton.  And from the looks of these pictures, it appears that George Bush has re-invented himself as a man done with partisanship.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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We Should Follow Fareed Zakaria’s Advice

Posted in Iran by Dan on March 22, 2010

For anyone who is truly scared about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, I invite you to take a look at a piece that Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek a little over a week ago.  In it, Zakaria goes on a scholarly tirade about how overblown the Iranian debate has become, up to the point where some are afraid that an Iranian nuclear weapon would somehow hold the world hostage.  Israel has been advocating this stance for years, a state that views Iran as an existential threat.  Neoconservatives across the United States- the same people who lobbied the government to launch a preemptive invasion of Iraq in 2003- have taken up a similar belief.

Thankfully, we have some rational reporters (like Mr. Zakaria) that refuse to drink the Kool-Aid.  From his judgment, Iran is not an existential threat.  In fact, Iran is not even on par with the Soviet Union or Communist China when it comes to what Americans should be worrying about.  Contrary to popular belief, Iran is a state that can be deterred if it indeed crosses the nuclear threshold.  If the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Israel can be deterred, so can the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Believe it or not, I actually wrote about this very issue a few months ago, when Iran became the primary topic on the Sunday talk shows.  And thankfully, I am happy to say that my recommendation is exactly what Mr. Zakaria is advocating (not to pat myself on the back, because heck…If I was an expert, than perhaps my long manuscript would have been accepted by a major journal).

As Zakaria accurately notes, the main objective of Iran’s rulers is self-preservation. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are willing to do anything to stay in power. We saw this in a pretty brutal fashion this past summer, with Basij militiamen beating protesters over the head with clubs. We continue to see this today, with members of the opposition being summarily executed in show-trials, hoping that the threat of death will deter future anti-regime protests.

There appears to be nothing that the mullahs (and the IRGC generals) would do to hold onto their positions. Building a nuclear program and eventually getting nuclear warheads fits right into this calculus. With a nuclear deterrent, there is no way the United States would be foolish enough to promote regime-change through the use of force.  Among the many reasons for an Iranian bomb, regime stability is one of the biggest.

But just as it’s foolish for the U.S. to attack an Iran with a nuclear capability, it would be downright suicidal for Iran to use nuclear weapons in the first place.

What could Tehran possibly achieve with a nuclear weapon? Spreading their influence across the Persian Gulf? Well, this has already been done. Iran has proxy influence in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and in the Palestinian Territories.  While it may be true that nuclear-armed Iran would be more aggressive in the broader Middle East, this same behavior would quickly tame down if the United States adopted a serious deterrence strategy.

What about the stupid neoconservative argument that Iran would secretly give nuclear material to a terrorist organization? This too is unlikely. It has taken Iranian scientists close to a decade to develop the infrastructure and technology needed for uranium enrichment. The idea that the Iranians would simply hand-over their most prized possession to terrorists is laughable.  Any nuclear attack by a terrorist group would be solely blamed on Iran, even if there was a lack of 100 percent certainty.  And the result would be nothing short of catastrophic for the Iranian Government.

And don’t even talk about “wiping Israel of the map.” This argument is the most ignorant on the list. Destroying Israel would only invite an even bigger wrath by the United States, with Iranian cities annihilated and millions of Iranian citizens killed. Nobody wins.

This is why deterrence is such a foolproof concept, and this is why Iran (despite its fundamentalism jargon and vehement anti-Americanism) is just as susceptible to deterrence as everyone else.  Any offensive nuclear attack would be met with an even stronger reaction.

So let’s take Zakaria’s advice and stop worrying about things that are not going to happen. No one wants Iran to become a nuclear power, but the world won’t end if they do make that list.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Fareed Zakaria, James Lindsay and Ray Takeyh**

Maybe It’s Not All Netanyahu’s Fault

Posted in Israel by Dan on March 18, 2010

I’ve been thinking about this Israel-Palestine thing for the past week now, and for the most part, I’ve laid most of the blame on the Israeli Government.  But how can you not?  P.M. Netanyahu’s administration hasn’t exactly behaved the way a respectable statesman should.  Even Jeffery Goldberg, the most pro-Israel staffer at The Atlantic, concedes that the Jewish state has made a whole series of stupid mistakes that could have been avoided.  Just take a look at his most notable (and surprisingly frank) quote, which tells you everything you need to know about Israel over the past year:

“First, there was the gross insult directed at the Turkish ambassador to Israel by the deputy foreign minister.  Then came the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai…a country that is obviously important to the formation of a broad, anti-Iran coalition.  Then, of course, came the humiliation dealt to Vice President Biden on his visit to Israel.  Bibi Netanyahu is not in control of his government.”

This got me thinking.  Perhaps it is not all Netanyahu’s fault after all.  Maybe he’s just stuck in the mud, or caught between a rock and a hard place, or any other old adage that describes a stalemated position.  Sounds naïve?  Hardly so, because this is precisely what his happening.  For all of Netanyahu’s bluster and bravado, it looks like he is having a very difficult time controlling his own allies in the government. Essentially, he is being held hostage by the very same “friends” that propelled him to power in the first place.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict obviously cannot be solved by the United States alone. I agree that the Obama administration- especially Secretary Hillary Clinton and Envoy George Mitchell- are doing the right thing by pressuring the Israeli Government by airing their grievances in a very public matter. This is a warranted development, because Israel really hasn’t been pressured to do all that much with regard to the Mideast peace process.

But all of the complaining in the world won’t do any good if P.M. Netanyahu doesn’t smarten up and bring the moderate Kadima Party into his government.

Currently, Netanyahu is unable to concede to U.S. demands, due in large part to his dependence on right-wing settler movements in the coalition. Ditching the religious fanatics and replacing them with a pragmatic party in Israeli politics may be the only way to solve this settlement issue and get the proximity talks back on track.

Or if Netanyahu is prepared to resign his position, he could stop the East Jerusalem project now. But somehow I don’t think that is going to happen.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist and Dr. Stephen Walt at FP.com**

The Syrian Boogyman

Posted in Syria by Dan on March 17, 2010

The United States and Syria appear to be making some headway.  Throughout the entire year, some very important people have been traveling to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  U.S. Envoy George Mitchell has met Assad three times already, with the main discussion concentrating on the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns arrived in Damascus last week to talk about bilateral issues between Washington and Damascus; one would guess that Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, and Israeli-Syrian peace were on the agenda.  And of course, President Barack Obama nominated the first U.S. Ambassador to Damascus in five years, tapping Robert Ford for the job (by the way, you can read a little more about this in my article that was published by the NWJI).

So with all of these breakthroughs occurring between the two former rivals, it’s not surprising that many people in the IR field and in the media are expecting dramatic improvements over the next few months.

Well, maybe too optimistic.  The same bloggers that were hopeful a few months ago are now complaining about the lack of real progress.  The blogosphere is full with these sorts of arguments.  Republicans and some Democrats are claiming that the meetings between American and Syrian officials are more like symbolic gestures than real events.  Elliot Abrams took this a step further, berating President Obama’s entire foreign-policy based on what he views as a slow first year between the United States and Syria.  Jennifer Rubin of Commentary takes a similar tone, making the case that Washington needs to stop giving away “freebees” to Syria without some strings attached.  As she puts it, “could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him?  Could be.”

Could be indeed.  Syria’s strategic standing in the Middle East is now enhanced, due in part to American recognition and due in part to America’s sudden return to Damascus.  But surely Mr. Abrams and Mrs. Rubin understand that diplomacy is not a cut and dry affair?  Based on their impressive credentials, I would hope so.

No one said this was going to be easy.  Not all U.S. objectives (Syria moving away from Iran, Syria making peace with Israel, Syria keeping tabs on insurgents going across its border with Iraq) is going to happen.  And likewise, not all Syrian demands will be met either, like an ending of economic sanctions and investment in U.S. markets.  Diplomacy is not a zero-sum game.

And just as diplomacy is not a zero-sum game, it’s also not a miracle-pill that will magically cure all ills.  Discussion and dialogue between allies takes time, and even more so when allies were once formidable enemies (Syria still remains on the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terrorism).

But before we can understand how diplomacy works, we have to understand what is going on with this new U.S.-Syrian relationship.  Unfortunately, it seems like some bloggers and neoconservative commentators are getting the facts completely wrong.

Let’s get a few things straightened out first.  Number one, it’s the United States that wants to desperately engage Syria, not the other way around.

It is President Obama that is extending his hand, not the Syrian Government. First off, the White House is still trying to salvage its Mideast peace initiative. Despite Israeli arrogance and Palestinian political division, Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a primary foreign-policy goal for the Obama team (George Mitchell has a lot of jet-lag and frustration to prove it). Like it or not, the United States needs Syria’s cooperation on this problem.

Damascus holds tremendous weight among Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, evident in their willingness to take in Palestinian refugees. Syria’s image as a defiant defender of Arab rights is only going up, confirmed by a recent poll that shows Bashar al-Assad as the most popular leader in the Muslim world (http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/12/16/people_of_the_year_2009_middle_east_edition). And of course, we cannot discount Syria’s role in Iraq, both as a covert supporter of Islamic militants and as a safe-haven for former Baath Party officials.

It’s great that Washington is starting to take Syria seriously. But it’s not simply because Syria is under extreme pressure from economic sanctions and international isolation (although this may have contributed to Syria’s modified behavior).  To the contrary; it’s because Syria is at the heart of every problem that the U.S. is concerned about (Arab-Israeli Peace, Israeli-Palestinian peace, Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran). Name any other country that has this type of influence.

When all is said and done, the nomination of Robert Ford is a very good start, but we should keep the entire affair in perspective.  One year of engagement is not going to reverse five years of diplomatic absence.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Just Gets Worse and Worse

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on March 16, 2010

By this time, most people have probably heard about Israel’s new housing plan, which permits the construction of another 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem…an area, by the way, that has long been regarded as the capital of a future Palestinian state.  Likewise, most Americans have either heard or read about America’s strong opposition to this latest announcement, which has the potential of severely derailing the start of new Mideast peace talks between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent most of her day on Friday venting her displeasure to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the telephone, calling the recent settlement decision a terrible and destructive step in the U.S.-Israel relationship.  President Obama’s senior political advisor, David Axelrod, jumped on the Sunday morning talk shows to vehemently denounce the Israeli action as an “insult” to the United State.  Mideast Envoy George Mitchell went so far as to cancel his scheduled trip to Israel,  in what is obviously construed as one of the strongest forms of diplomatic protest.

When both the United States and Israel confirm that there is a serious crisis going on between the two countries, you know that an alliance is stretched to the brim.  The question now is whether President Obama and P.M. Netanyahu can mend their many differences for the sake of a new Mideast peace dialog.  They at least owe George Mitchell this little bit of satisfaction.

What does Congress have to say about all of this?  Well, nothing constructive as usual.

There is a bipartisan outraged over the administration’s public relations tour this weekend, so much so that a number of powerful Senators spent hours on the floor accusing Obama, Clinton, and Axelrod of misplaced anger.  Here are a few noteworthy segments:

Senator John McCain: “It might be well if our friends in the administration and other places in the United States could start refocusing our efforts on the peace process.  Now we’ve had our spat. We’ve had our family fight, and it’s time for us now to stop and get our eye back on the goal, which is the commencement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.”

Senator Joseph Lieberman: “Let’s cut the family fighting, the family feud.  It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies.”

Senator Sam Brownback: “It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace.”

Representative Shelley Berkeley: “The administration’s strong implication that the enduring alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been weakened, and that America’s ability to broker talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities has been undermined, is an irresponsible overreaction.”

Here is a question for Congress; if you want this saga to be over with, why engage in speech that will provoke the White House to respond?

Besides, the Obama administration has every right to let their voices be heard.  As the maker and executor of U.S. foreign policy, the Commander-in-Chief has an ethical responsibility to defend his (or her) record if it’s indeed under attack.  Just ask President Bush, someone who spent most of his second term combating the media on the Iraq War.  Even President Clinton before him spoke up (for a different reason of course…cough cough).  If the White House formulates policy, they have the liberty to protect that same policy if it is being compromised.  This is an even bigger requirement if the official White House line is being challenged by a so-called friendly nation.

I personally don’t have a problem with political advisers giving their opinions on foreign-policy issues. In fact, I believe that major advisers have an obligation to provide alternatives to the President.

I will concede to Congress on one point.  David Axelrod should keep his mouth shut, especially when he lacks any firm expertise on the matter at hand.  Stick to politics Mr. Axelrod, and let the policy wonks take care of this one.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Daniel Drezner at FP.com**

Brazil Sends the U.S. Packing

Posted in South America/Central America/Western Hemisphere by Dan on March 14, 2010

You know that Iran is America’s primary foreign-policy concern when it dominates the discourse of a diplomatic trip to the Middle East.  It’s even more significant when Iran is the main talking-point in another region, like Latin America, where nuclear proliferation is a distant fourth compared to the drug trade, government transparency and regional peace.  You would expect something like this to happen in George W. Bush’s White House, an administration that prided itself on the fight against terrorism and the spread of democracy.

Well not so fast, because this same uni-dimensionality just transferred over to the current President.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just wrapped-up her latest visit to Latin America, a region where U.S. power has often been looked upon with skepticism and outright mistrust.  History has been full of instances where U.S. intervention brought bloodbath to Latin Americans, sometimes for the meager purpose of expanding American business interests.  So with this in mind, you would think that demonstrating America’s change of heart to the region would be Mrs. Clinton’s message.  But as Nikolas K. Gvosdev of the National Interest argues, this was anything but the case.

Rather than discussing issues that are unique to Brazilians, Venezuelans, Chileans, or Columbians, the United States chose to spend most of its time lobbying for stronger economic sanctions against the Iranian regime.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that Brazil in particular sent Clinton with her tail between her legs.

Brazil has never really been receptive to western arguments against Tehran’s nuclear program.  For years now, Brazilian President Lula da Silva has publicly stressed his support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, on the grounds that developing countries have the right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes under international protocol.  Brazil, in addition to India, Pakistan, China, and Russia, continues to put forth the claim that the United States has been overblowing Iran’s nuclear capability from the start (and I tend to agree with them).  Lula da Silva’s support for Iran’s nuclear program has reached to such heights that his government invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil for an official and cordial diplomatic meeting, posing with the controversial Iranian leader in front of the cameras and undoubtedly causing some U.S. anguish in the process.

To the dismay of Washington, Clinton’s trip didn’t budge Lula all that much.  In fact, Brazil’s reluctance to adopt the U.S. position vis-à-vis Iran is but a confirmation of its desire to represent the developing world in all its glory.  With its economy the strongest in Latin America, with its private sector vastly increasing, and with its exclusive membership in the U.N. Security Council, Brazil is intent on making sure that all rising nations (whether in Southeast Asia, Africa, or the Middle East) have the same opportunities as wealthy conglomerates like the United States and Great Britain.   The nuclear issue is only an extension of this position.  Like the United States, Brazil has its own array of national interests, one of which is to get the world’s attention by pushing its diplomatic weight across the world stage.

Overall, this was a pretty bad week for the U.S. diplomatic core.  Brazil is not tagging along, the region still has its problems with Washington, and the developed-developing world dichotomy is split ever further apart.  Brace for a tough few months at the U.N. Security Council, and expect additional Iranian sanctions to be divided between the rich and poor.  And for those in the middle, like Brazil and Turkey, expect them to jump to the side where their power will be on full display; the side of the poor and underdeveloped.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**