Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

China and India Could Save The U.S.

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, Uncategorized by Dan on July 22, 2010

We have all heard about China’s rapid rise as a world power.  Economically, China is projected to pass the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2040; politically, China is projecting itself to be the most influential state on the Asian continent…or at least in its immediate neighborhood.

India, too, is experiencing this same trend.  The Indian population is expected to increase in the next decade, with more people entering into the types of jobs that actually make a decent living (like doctors, lawyers, computer engineers, and professors).  The Indian GDP- currently a hefty $3.56 trillion- will likely improve as the Indian economy diversifies into different areas, particularly the technology sector which is already extremely popular among educated Indians.  The CIA World Factbook confirms that the Indian economy grew by over 6 percent in 2009, which is an astounding rate given the global economic recession of the past two years.

It seems like the future for China and India is all roses.  But what happens when energy demand starts to outweigh Beijing and New Delhi’s supply?  India is already ranked 6th in oil consumption as of 2009, and China’s place on the consumption scale is even higher (they are in 3rd place, behind the European Union and the good old U.S.A.).  Given future trends in population, oil imports will have to substantially climb if both countries want to maintain their economic success.

China and India could get on Russia’s good side in order to fulfill its energy needs, but dealing with those pesky Ruskies is a tricky business (they love to spy, and they have some interests that conflict with China in particular, like control of Central Asia).  So once again, the Middle East- with all of its oil glory- is not going to go away.  In fact, if you like to bet, place your wager on the Middle East being the most important region for at least the next ten or twenty years.

It’s going to be interesting to see how China and India- who have thus far been able to distance themselves from the turbulent politics of the Middle East- maneuver with governments in the Islamic world.  Are they going to assert themselves, much like the United States has in the last three decades?  Or will they take a more passive approach; building economic ties while keeping a distance from the region’s messy politics?

The second option is by the far the most desired.  If there is anything that can be taken away from America’s involvement in the Middle East, it is the fact that the region’s politics is a terribly frustrating and spurious thing to deal with.  The problem is that the same energy demands that drew the U.S. to the Persian Gulf could eventually drag China and India into a similar predicament.

Middle Eastern politics is full of cataclysmic situations where violence always seems to be one step away. Political turmoil between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, and the continued frustration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may eventually threaten the oil market.  What would Beijing or New Delhi’s reactions be in this circumstance?

If the oil market is volatile, or if regional tensions somehow stop the oil from flowing at a relatively low cost, China or India may need to get involved in a much more aggressive fashion. One of the reasons why the United States decided to establish military bases across the Middle East (despite preserving a balance of power among the Middle Eastern states) was to protect oil interests and ensure that a conflict doesn’t get out of control. China and India (and perhaps Japan) may need to act in much the same way.

But in all honesty, Chinese and Indian foreign policy is not want I’m concerned with.  Rather, the reason I’m bringing this whole affair to light is because China and India’s future energy needs could actually lift some of the burden from America’s strained shoulders.

Most Americans are sick and tired of acting as the world’s policemen, and some simply want to withdraw all together. Being the world’s primary guardian requires lots of manpower and lots of taxpayer money, and after three decades of filling that role, Americans want to cut their losses and stop spending money on what many deem to be hopeless ventures (like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, although wouldn’t put myself in this camp).

A resurgent China and India in perhaps just the excuse Americans are looking for to finally cut back their forces and disengage militarily from the region. The United States will no longer feel the pressure of going it alone on some of the world’s most important security issues.

Whether this is what Washington is thinking is a whole other story. Lawmakers probably view a strong China as a threat to U.S. interests, and they may be right in some areas. But they should also remember that the U.S. has the strongest and most technologically advanced military in the world…not to mention the ability to influence countries indirectly through billions in economic assistance. A few Chinese soldiers won’t change that.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Geoffrey Kemp of the Nixon Center.  His article can be read on FP.com**

Why Blogging and Tweeting Matters

Posted in Uncategorized, United States by Dan on June 13, 2010

I came across a pretty interesting article by Drew Conway, a PhD student at New York University, about the importance of blogs in today’s environment and how graduate students (or those in undergrad for that matter) can take advantage of the many tools that blogging has to offer.

The reason I’m commenting on this post is because blogs have taken on an inherent value in American society.  You can’t go far on the internet without stumbling upon a wide variety of blogs, most of which redirect you to other blogs that you had no idea existed.  Everything from sports to politics, security to celebratory gossip is discussed, and virtually no issue is left untouched by today’s blogosphere.

But besides the exponential rise of blogs on the internet today, online forums provide a much needed service in the field of amateur (and professional) journalism.  Online forums, whether it be a blog, a message board, a facebook account, or a twitter feed, are extremely beneficial to the average Joe (like myself) who has something worthwhile to say to the public.  In fact, before the adoption and growth of blogs on the internet, the ordinary citizen really didn’t have a proper venue to get certain things off his or her chest, besides the brief “letter to the editor” section in local newspapers.  But even the “letter to the editor” section had its limits; most concerned citizens get rejected due to space and content constraints, particularly in nationwide publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal.

So it came as burst of fresh air that some aspiring students in academia are becoming accustomed to forming their own blogs.

Here’s the brief conversation I had with Drew yesterday:

Me: Drew, spot on.  This post had to be said, because from my own personal viewpoint, I see very few of my peers experimenting with the thousands of forums and message boards that contribute to the online discourse. Granted, I am still relatively young in my college career; I just recently graduated at the undergrad level and am heading to grad school in the fall. But even with this limited journey in academia so far, I’m consistently baffled by the fact that students in the human sciences neglect to take advantage of the internet.

There is a whole world out there besides the dusty coated books in the library and the up-to-the-date textbooks we are forced to buy on an annual basis. The world of print media is quickly being succumbed by websites and tweets, if it hasn’t been already. Academics like Steve Walt, Marc Lynch, Peter Bergen and the like have all expanded their knowledge base and following through the establishment of their blogs. And for the most part, all three of these individuals have increased their stature in the IR community like never before. In fact, I didn’t hear much about Walt before I ventured onto his blog at ForeignPolicy.com.

Naturally, you would think that M.A. and PhD students today would follow their example. I started blogging relatively early (my own blog is approaching its one-year anniversary this month), and some of my friends have indeed follow suit. It would just be refreshing to see more ideas out there (especially in the field of political science and IR), thus generating more debate and more networking.

Drew: I am very pleased to see that you have taken up blogging—particularly in your undergrad. Best of luck, and keep up the great work (just checked out The Docket)!

And of course, other people contributed to the conversation as well.


-Daniel R. DePetris

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Egypt’s Many Problems

Posted in Middle East and North Africa, Uncategorized by Dan on May 3, 2010

Shadi Hamid has an eye-opener over at democracyarsenal.org, which by the way, is actually an official blog of the National Security Network (I had no idea).

I highly recommend that you take a full look at his post, because the topic he discusses- U.S. democracy assistance in the Middle East- is more than a bit relevant.  But just in case you didn’t want to scroll through the whole thing, Hamid raises a few key points about how contradictory and inadequate American democracy promotion is in the Middle East.

Here’s a quote that really jumped out to me:  “The whole idea of “democracy assistance” is a bit odd and more than a bit hypocritical. We fund autocracies with billions of dollars of aid, then we fund some small NGOs so that they can oppose autocracy.”

This, I fear, is something that the average Middle East watcher here in the United States neglects to pay attention too.  For all of its love and dedication towards democratic values and human rights, Washington is still pouring billions upon billions of dollars into regimes that are nowhere near…well…”semi-free.”  Saudi Arabia and Jordan are major players in this respect, both of whom continue to reign repressively at home while reaping the rewards of American taxpayer dollars.  Don’t even get me started on Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan.

I understand why the United States is doing this.  There is, after all, an overarching strategic value of pumping money into these regimes.  The general equation is quite obvious; the more money the U.S. sends to places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, the more likely these countries will ally with us on issues of primary importance.  And for the most part, money does buy allies.  Cairo, Riyadh, and Amman are all supportive of a comprehensive and nonviolent path to Palestinian statehood; all three want to scale back Iran’s nuclear program; and two out of the three hold peace agreements with the Israelis.

I’m just wondering what President Barack Obama (and President Bush, President Clinton, President Bush Sr., President Reagan, President Carter, blah blah blah) is sacrificing in order to gain leverage over these regimes.  And unfortunately, you don’t’ have to look hard to see what we are sacrificing; American values, transparent government and the most basic civil liberties.

I do disagree with Hamid on one point he makes in his post.  He seems to imply that Egypt is not yet at the point of full authoritarianism.  To his credit, he does recognize that Egypt is descending further “into full-blown autocracy.”  But facts on the ground seem to indicate that the Egyptian Government is already there.

Hosni Mubarak has ruled by executive decree for the past thirty years, crushing any and all opposition to his administration. His political survival is essentially dependent on the martial law order that was originally created in 1981 after Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists. Yet decades after the assassination, Mubarak continues to extend the law to serve political purposes, like destroying any opposition movement that surfaces as an alternative to his administration.

The Egyptian Government has to sign-off if you want to start an NGO for the population or if you want to participate in politics as a member of the opposition. Otherwise, you can forget about campaigning (as if that will do much good anyway).

This doesn’t even mention the Egyptian Regime’s grotesque human rights record, or the fact that an inexperienced son is ready to take the post after his father leaves.

The one shining light in Egyptian politics today is the emergence of Dr. El’Baradei as a possible contender for the 2011 presidential election. But even that isn’t set in stone.

So I say again, how is Egypt not an autocratic country today? It’s one of most autocratic in the broader Middle East. Even Iran- the quote on quote most repressive country in the region- has replaced their president at least four times in the past two decades.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Happy Holidays to You and Yours

Posted in Uncategorized by Dan on December 23, 2009

To the readers and contributors of this blog- as to everyone else out there- happy holidays from the Political Docket.  Best wishes, and I hope you and your families have a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable holiday in the coming week.  Thank you so much for your contributions over the first few months of this forum!  I sincerely hope that the next year will be even better than the last.


Daniel R. DePetris

The Failed Ending of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

Posted in Uncategorized by Dan on August 8, 2009
Thanks to Mahmoud Abbas' change in behavior, President Obama's mission to bring peace is all but over

Thanks to Mahmoud Abbas' change in behavior, President Obama's mission to bring peace is all but over

On this day, August 4, 2009, I declare the Israeli-Palestinian peace process over.  The six months of mediation between Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, despite some warm dialogue exchanged between the two parties, has undergone an unfortunate transition into the history books.  Yet another American president, this time under the leadership and guidance of Barack Hussein Obama, has failed to deliver on promises of an historic peace agreement in the Middle East.  Repeated Israeli incursions into the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are imminent, while the radical Hamas movement will continue to gain unprecedented victories in its armed-struggle against the Jewish state.  Depending on the perspective one has on the issue, you can chalk up a victory for both the hawkish supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the advocates of radical Islam.

What evidence supporters my bold conclusions?  How is today different from other instances of Israeli and Palestinian infighting?  Surprisingly, the answer lies not in the policies of the White House, nor the continued international defiance of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, nor the expansion of Jewish settlements inside the West Bank.  Rather, the behavior of Mahmoud Abbas, the undisputed leader of the Fatah party, is solely responsible for the absolute destruction of peace in the Holy Land.  Based on today’s bleak circumstances, the one man that appeared genuine in forging a prospective peace deal with the Israeli “enemy” is caving in to the pressures of Islamic fundamentalism.

According to various sources both at home and abroad, President Mahmoud Abbas addressed his Fatah members in the party’s first congress is 20 years…drafting a new party platform dealing with issues ranging from economic policy to Palestinian statehood.  For many Middle Eastern analysts inside Washington, the Fatah convention was perceived as a ripe opportunity for Abbas to publicly shore up his western-credentials:  opposing Hamas’ campaign of terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians while bolstering his own strategy for direct negotiations.  In terms more indicative of the Obama administration, Mr. Abbas’ address may have been seen as a dramatic stepping-stone for their personal drive towards peace in the area…an issue that is increasingly being defined by experts as the most important mission for President Obama’s foreign-policy.

However positive and hopeful each of these assumptions are, Americans, Israelis and moderate Palestinians were all shocked and disgusted to hear harsh words emanating from such a soft-spoken man.  Rather than use his party’s first convention since the movement’s founding in a constructive manner…such as demonstrating to the international community Palestine’s unending commitment to diplomacy and negotiation, Mr. Abbas has decided to appease the demands of hard-line Palestinian voters.  The reformed draft, publicly endorsed by Mr. Abbas himself, states that “armed resistance” against Israel will forever remain an option in the Palestinian quest for an independent and sovereign state.  In the words of the Fatah chairman, “although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance, legitimate under international law.”  In what is seemingly a political ploy for the radicalized Palestinian vote, the former moderate is now stressing his support for attacks against Israeli operations if current negotiations fall flat on its face.

As if this rhetoric is not dangerous enough, the Palestinian President repeatedly invoked language that is all too characteristic of his Hamas rival.  “We will not stand helpless in the face of Israeli incursions,” Abbas declares…politically-correct jargon basically reiterating that the Palestinian people will meet violence with more violence.  Is this any different from the militants joining the ranks of the Hamas movement…an organization that refuses to recognize Israel’s very right to exist?  How can Abbas’ statements seriously be distinguished from Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’ political director who continues to threaten the Jewish state’s survival?  When the two-most dissimilar ideological factions inside Palestinian politics begins to mesh together on an issue as crucial as Israeli safety and security, the realistic possibilities for a comprehensive Middle Eastern peace accord become virtually nonexistent.

While it is easy to blame Mr. Abbas’ irrationality for Fatah’s backtracking on peaceful coexistence, this would not fully explain the rationale for his decision.  There are motives involved, inherently political, which are forcing Abbas to alter his previous statements of moderation and toleration.  With the Palestinian parliamentary elections approaching in 2010, it is quite obvious that the Fatah leader is desperately trying to garnish the support of the anti-Israeli electorate.  Recent polls only confirm this belief.  Thanks to the work of David Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 52 percent of Palestinians polled support armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel.  This is not some statistic conducted exclusively in the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave where Hamas possess a majority of its rank-and-file.  The poll is a direct result of the radicalization of Palestinian politics inside the West Bank…an area that is governed and protected by Abbas’ Fatah Party and his Palestinian Security Forces.  In the phrase of Mr. Schenker, “where have all the Palestinian moderates gone?”  The answer…perhaps there were no Palestinian moderates to begin with.

With over half of the Palestinian electorate advocating armed resistance against Israelis who have no control over their governments aggressive posturing, Mr. Abbas is sacrificing international peace for local politics.  With the Hamas movement already attracting a large constituency in the Gaza Strip, and with Hamas militants increasingly seeping into the West Bank to expand their operations, the members of Fatah are predicting that their days in power are numbered.  What better way to delay this downfall by catering to the desires of radical Palestine, and thus, the supporters of the Hamas challenger?  By publicly appeasing the views of the Palestinian electorate, namely by insisting that violence will be used in order to establish a permanent Palestinian state, Mahmoud Abbas is chipping away at Hamas’ base at a time when elections are less than a year away.

Not only will Mr. Abbas’ belligerent rhetoric result in an Israeli refusal to compromise on Jewish settlements in the West Bank…it may also provoke Netanyahu and his coalition into adopting an equally aggressive ideology.  To the dismay of the peaceniks, Fatah’s political trick is undermining, if not destroying, the confidence necessary for an historic end to hostilities.  An end to Israeli-Palestinian peace indeed.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Mohammad Assadi of Reuters and David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy contributed to this blog.

Assadi’s article can be accessed at:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/04/AR2009080400680.html?wprss=rss_world/wires

Schenker’s article can be accessed at:  http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/08/04/where_have_all_the_palestinian_moderates_gone