Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why the International Community Wants Qaddafi Gone

The rebel alliance in Libya is now poised to assume full control of Tripoli, and perhaps all of Libya, having recently taken Qaddafi's compound (not surprisingly, the dictator was nowhere to be found). Now that the war in Libya is again front page news I feel compelled to finally make some remarks about this conflict. However, I want to narrowly focus on why since the very beginning of this war the International Community (hereafter IC), particularly Europe, have enthusiastically backed NATO operations in Libya. I should say first that when the revolution in Libya began and Qaddafi's unsurprisingly ruthless crackdown immediately followed I was struck by how quickly the IC backed the rebel factions in Libya. I was (and still am) especially baffled by Russia and China's signature of approval on UN Security Coucil Resolution 1970 after both had previously said they would veto any such resolution that might come before the UN Security Council in terms of the revolution in Libya (Note that Russia gave its approval only after securing a proviso which stated that NATO could not use the resolution as a pretext for an invasion of the country.).

To understand what I'm getting at you have to split Qaddafi's fourty-two year reign of power into two phases: Pre-Lockerbie Bombing Qaddafi and Post-Lockerbie Bombing Qaddafi. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Lockerbie bombing it was a terrorist act most likely sanctioned by Qaddafi that blew up flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 213 passengers and 16 crew members. Now before this international incident Qaddafi had been a pain the ass for the IC (not to mention to his own people) ever since he assumed power after he initiated a successful military coup in 1969. He was behind countless terrorist operations that if accurately tallied might amount to many more deaths than that achieved by Al Qaeda on 9/11. Most of these were committed against Israel, a particularly loathesome entity in Qaddafi's foreign policy worldview. Indeed, no other foreign policy matter preoccupied Qaddafi so obsessively as did Israel's irritating existence in the Arab world. And though initially a rallying force in Africa, Qaddafi soon earned the ire of his African neighbors by continuously intervening in the domestic affairs of countries like Tunisia, Sudan, and especially Chad which eventually resulted in an all out war between those two countries with the result that Qaddafi suffered a humiliating defeat. Qaddafi even managed to alienate an important ally, Egypt, by consistently meddling in its affairs which also resulted in a war between the two. And of course most famously Qaddafi provoked Reagan's bombing of Libya in 1986, a response in large part to the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that resulted in the death of three US servicemen and the injury of hundreds more.

There is much more that I'm leaving out in this narrative of Qaddafi's rule before Lockerbie but suffice it to say he was a menace to the IC. But of course he was tolerated, especially by Europe, because of an important asset his country had: oil. Things, however, finally changed after convincing evidence linked Qaddafi to the horrible Lockerbie bombing mentioned above. This tragedy ultimately convinced the IC to impose crippling economic sanctions on Libya that was instrumental in finally convincing Qaddafi to attempt a rapprochment with the West. The first major move Qaddafi made came in 1999 when, through the mediation of Nelson Mandela, he permitted the extradition of the two Libyans who had been convicted of the Lockerbie bombing after a thorough investigation of that tragic event. Subsequently in 2002, Qaddafi took formal responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing agreeing to a 2.7 billion compensation for the families of those killed in the bombing. Then in 2004 Qaddafi allowed UN inspectors into his country and followed this up by agreeing to dismantle his WMD progam (which he did). Furthermore, Qaddafi became a willing and important asset to the United States during the war on terror. Another conciliating move Qaddafi made was to relax many of his nationalization of Libyan oil policies that he had begun back in 1973. And lastly, as well as most surprisingly, Qaddafi significantly eased his hostility toward Israel even to a small degree participating in some of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In short, whether out of a genuine repentance of mind (least likely) or from an instinctual need for survival (more likely), Qaddafi turned face and ceased conducting a reprehensible foreign policy vis a vis the IC.

The point that I'm trying to make here is that it took an awful lot of effort from the IC to bring Qaddafi to the point he was before the Arab spring began. Thus, my genuine surprise as to the abrupt way in which the IC hastily gave its initial verbal support to the Libyan rebels. So what is going on here? The best that I can surmise is that the IC has always been nervous that Qaddafi might backslide to his former ways so that when the rebels looked like they were going to achieve a quick victory the IC jumped at the opportunity to back the group that they believed would quickly topple Qaddafi. But it soon became clear that the rebels were not going to achieve victory on their own. Worse still, it looked as if Qaddafi would be successful in crushing the rebellion. This probability I believe made the IC quick to intervene. Why? Because they realized that if Qaddafi regained complete control of his country he wouldn't forget how quickly the IC abandoned him. From Qaddafi's point of view there would no longer be any incentive for him not to support (and conduct) terrorism, to pursue WMDs, to completely renationalize Libya's oil, to return to a harsh position against Israel, etc. In other words, Qaddafi's foreign policy would once again become troublesome, if not more so. Of course, the ostensible reason the IC decided to militarily intervene in the Libyan civil war is because of a human rights issue, namely, Qaddafi's brutal crackdown of protesters (clearly they weren't going to secure a UN resolution otherwise hence the requisite human rights language). But I don't believe it's the real reason. Though it was denied again and again, even by President Obama, the goal has always been regime change. Because again, I think they realized their folly and in order to ensure Qaddafi wouldn't return to power and once again become a menace to them the IC decided to intervene in the conflict. To sum up, the fear of a return of a Pre-Lockerbie Bombing Qaddafi is the principal reason why the IC wants Qaddafi gone and not because he was in violation of the UN's human rights charter.

Don't get me wrong. It will be just fine by me if Qaddafi is removed from power. Nevertheless, I think this was a classic case in which the global community did not thoroughly consider its options before hand. The reality now is that Libya may be getting a new government. Most are hopeful that it will be a democratic one but given how little we know about the groups involved in the rebellion (in fact early intelligence indicated that some of the members were affiliated with Al Qaeda) there's no way to predict the future of a post-Qaddafi Libya. I for one am pessimistic that it will turn out in such a manner as the IC, especially the West, hopes.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Top Ten Foreign Policy Presidents: Part II

And now the conclusion....

5.) James Polk: Another polarizing figure since many perceive him to be entirely culpable for igniting the Mexican-American War. Though this is true to some degree that war's origins are more complicated with Mexico bearing much of the blame as well. Nevertheless, you don't have the the SW territories (mostly due to the aforementioned war) or the Oregon Territory without the clever diplomacy of Polk, especially concerning the latter since Polk was constantly having to work around the schemes of his Secretary of State James Buchanan who at every turn attempted to subvert Polk's foreign policy objectives.

4.) Theodore Roosevelt: TR not only originated the saying "speak softly and carry a big stick" but embodied it as well. Among his many foreign policy achievements: a closer alignment with Britain (the US/British relationship had become significantly stagnated over the years); sending the Great White Fleet around the world in order to display the Naval might of the United States, being the force behind the building of the Panama Canal, and earning a Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an end to the 1905 Russo-Japanese war.

3.) Thomas Jefferson: During a time when Europe was being turned upside down by Napoleon, Jefferson deftly managed the foreign relations of the United States, especially tempering his prior Francophilia to maintain a healthy balance between US interests with France and Great Britain and carefully keeping the country out of their conflict but also taking advantage of it by purchasing, at an amazingly cheap price, the Louisiana Territory (Napoleon was in dire need of funds to keep his campaigns going) which made way for the successful Lewis and Clark expedition. Also, Jefferson achieved victory in the Barbary Wars chiefly by intensifying the construction of the US Navy (started by his predecessor John Adams during the Quasi War with France) that ultimately proved requisite for our "success" against the Royal Navy during the War of 1812.

2.) James Monroe (John Quincy Adams): The Monroe Doctrine was a watershed moment in the history of the foreign policy of the United States. It essentially stated that any attempts by the European powers to intervene in the affairs of the countries in the Western Hemisphere (meaning chiefly Latin America) would be viewed as an act of aggression. This astute move by Monroe was pivotal in ensuring two things that were essential for the future growth of the United States: economic advantage and national security. (I'm cheating here a bit by including John Quincy Adams with Monroe but the fact of the matter is that Adams deserves much of the credit for the Monroe Doctrine because he was one of its chief architects.)

1.) Franklin Delano Roosevelt: There should be no surprise here. Though not personally a fan of FDR I cannot doubt that at a time when the American populace was fiercely isolationist it is admirable how ingeniously FDR involved the US in WWII (thus it is no surprise that many conspiracy theories developed so quickly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that suggested FDR either knew about the attack ahead of time or, more maliciously, orchestrated it himself). He achieved this by implementing such policies as the Lend-Lease Act which significantly aided Britain while the US was still "officially" not a participant in the war. I don't think any other President would have been able to juggle American isolationism with the pressing need to become more involved on the world stage. And for that FDR gets the top spot on my list.

Well, that's that. My top ten...for what it's worth. I know that many will disagree with some of my choices but at least it succeeds in being a much more comprehensive list than most I've seen. In summary, here's the complete list:

10.) George Washington

9.) Richard Nixon

8.) Abraham Lincoln

7.) Harry S. Truman

6.) George H.W. Bush

5.) James Polk

4.) Theodore Roosevelt

3.) Thomas Jefferson

2.) James Monroe (w/ John Quincy Adams)

1.) Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Top Ten Foreign Policy Presidents: Part I

Recently, Dr. Daniel Drezner of Foreign cited a study done by The Atlantic in which Michael Cohen gave his list of the "Best and Worst Foreign Policy Presidents". When I read it I realized that the only Presidents listed were from the 20th Century (and none before Woodrow Wilson) which perturbed me greatly. Time to time I've seen this before where foreign policy analysts, academics, journalists, etc tend to ignore completely the foreign policy achievements/failures of Presidents prior to Wilson. Indeed, the standard narrative continues to be that for the end of the 18th century and through the 19th the United States was happily isolationist, concerned only with focusing on its own internal affairs and building itself into a proper nation until the occurrence of the "hinge" event, namely, the Spanish-American War. According to this narrative, it's this conflict with Spain that begins to turn America's interests towards quasi-imperial musings which then become intensified (and to a degree ratified) with Woodrow Wilson and the US entrance into World War I. So then in this standard narrative the United States doesn't really begin to conduct a robust foreign policy until the 20th century, particularly until Woodrow Wilson.

This is a very myopic take on the history of American foreign policy. Yes, of course the 20th century witnessed two World Wars and one cold one. But this doesn't mean that the 18th and 19th centuries were any less significant in terms of the impact of geopolitics on the United States. So to remedy the situation I offer my own, much more comprehensive top ten list of the best foreign policy Presidents with brief explanations:

Note: these aren't necessarily in any particular order of importance.

10.) George Washington: During a very vulnerable phase in the history of the United States Washington was able to keep the foreign policy of the newly formed Republic restrained, maintaining a healthy balance between France, its most recent ally, and Britain, its most recent foe. Furthermore, in his famous Farewell Address Washington exhorted the young country not to forge "entangling alliances" with the countries of Europe because he understood that a country as newborn as itself couldn't realistically maintain such alliances and would probably find itself quickly snuffed out from history if it did so.

9.) Richard Nixon: I know this one is going to raise many eyebrows but the fact remains that no matter how detestable Nixon's domestic politics were he was (with of course the aid of Henry Kissinger) a master at crafting foreign policy. His policy of Russian detente and rapprochement with Communist China are the most notable of his achievements though they are often, along with his Vietnam policy, heavily criticized. But the fact of the matter is that a policy of detente with the Russians and an opening with China were the right policies to pursue during a decade when the United States' prestige and power was at its nadir.

8.) Abraham Lincoln: Because of the massive importance of the Civil War, Lincoln's foreign policy often gets overlooked. In fact, of the tens of thousands of books that have been written about Lincoln and the Civil War I'm not aware of one that devotes itself to studying Lincoln's foreign policy (though I'm sure at least one must exist). But the fact of the matter is that Lincoln (along with his Secretary of State William Seward) had to tread very carefully in terms of his diplomacy with the European countries, especially Britain who at one point strongly considered backing the Confederates because at the time they were importing most of their cotton from the South. But Lincoln was able to keep Britain and other countries from intervening in the Civil War; in my mind a major foreign policy achievement.

7.) Harry S. Truman: Truman tends to be a rather polarizing figure among foreign policy buffs; many detest his policies and blame him for "starting" the Cold War while others fulsomely praise his approach to foreign affairs. I tend towards the latter, minus the fulsome praise. I think Truman was a very good foreign policy president especially when you consider that he was thrust into the role of world statesman upon the sudden death of FDR when, by his own admission, he had no prior foreign policy experience. Truman had to preside over the end of WW II, the beginnings of the Cold War, European reconstruction, the Berlin crisis, the creation of Israel, and many others. Of course he had his failures, among which I would include some of his miscues during the Korean War, but overall I believe Truman handled the foreign policy load that was abruptly heaped upon him with diplomatic finesse.

6.) George H.W. Bush: I was a little hesitant to put George Sr on here because I have many problems with his approach to the Gulf War but his overseeing of the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union was handled with diplomatic care and for this very simple but major reason I include him on the list.

To be continued with the final five next week, of the list that is and not the final five Cylons.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Chicken or the....Dinosaur???

I was about to turn 11 when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. The experience is something that I vividly remember because I had always had a fascination with dinosaurs. In fact, my brother and I's room was typically scattered with all kinds of toys, many of which were dinosaurs of one sort or another, especially of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. And the earliest books that I recall reading were books about dinosaurs. Supposedly, according to many members of my family, my brother and I were experts often having to correct others on their mistaken identification of some dinosaur species. In addition, I watched as many movies and TV shows that I could at the time about dinosaurs. So naturally when I heard about Spielberg making a dinosaur movie called Jurassic Park I begged my mother to take us to opening night which she graciously did. I was of course awe struck by the entire film but specifically I remember being fascinated by Dr. Grant's implication early in the film that birds evolved from dinosaurs as well as the short discussion he had with Timmy about a book he wrote on the same topic. Now of course I didn't really have any idea what evolution was or how it worked then; nevertheless the mere suggestion that some dinosaurs became modern day birds captivated me.

The theory that birds originated from dinosaurs isn't all that novel having been proposed as far back as 1861 upon the discovery of Archaeopteryx, a winged and feathered dinosaur. However, it took time for the theory to gain any traction, partly because of the intense controversy it engendered among evolutionary biologists. But the hard to deny vast similarities between the bones of some dinosaurs (such as the Velociraptor) and that of modern day birds, the discovery of many more fossils linking the two such as the Chinese feathered dinosaurs, and advances in modern genetics has persuaded most of the viability of the theory. It's especially the advances in genetics that has convinced most. Amazingly, what geneticists are able to do today, while a chicken and/or bird is an embryo, is reactivate some of its atavistic genes to give it teeth, remove its feathers, and even grow it a tail among other modifications. (Note that this isn't just convincing proof that birds evolved from dinosaurs; it's compelling, indeed conclusive, evidence for the theory of evolution itself). I had stumbled upon this some time ago while watching a program on the Discovery Channel but had forgotten about it until I recently watched a TED video presented by famed paleontologist Jack Horner (who was actually partly the inspiration for the character of Alan Grant in Jurassic Park). I am thus compelled to share this video which does a good job summarizing the gains geneticists have made in "retro-engineering" a dinosaur from a chicken. Enjoy.

(For the impatient lot of you I would suggest starting at about 10 mins into the presentation.)