It has been a while since the world has had a really James Bond-worthy villain. But thanks to his announcement this weekend that he intends to publicly reassert his control over Russia, all Vladimir Putin needs at this point is a purring white cat in his lap and we will all know where 007's next assignment will take him.
Of course, Putin's decision to once again become Russia's president after four years in the less powerful role of prime minister should hardly come as a shock to anyone. That he is likely to swap jobs with current President Dmitry Medvedev only confirms suspicions experts have harbored about Medvedev since he assumed office -- that he was less a genuine political leader and more like one of those inflatable dummies people buy to ride next to them in their cars so they can drive in HOV lanes.
That may be a disappointment given Medvedev's occasional displays of independence that gave rise to the hope that perhaps he might be a counterweight to the oversize influence of Putin in Russian politics. It certainly seemed to be to Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who boldly did what has become an anachronism in Moscow politics and took a dissenting stand by saying he would not serve in the new government, which is slated to take office after "elections" in March. But it seems unlikely that many other notable voices will join those of Mr. Kudrin in protesting Putin's decision to hammer a stake through the hearts of those who still felt democracy had a chance in Russia.
For the United States and the West, the situation presents a problem. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously offered up that reset button in the early days of Barack Obama's administration, she certainly did not expect that when hitting it Putin would reset the relationship back to its Cold War depths. And while we are nowhere near there yet, trashing any remaining illusions of political reform certainly does not improve matters. In fact, given Russia's adventurism with its near neighbors, its regular embrace of international stances in opposition to those of the U.S., and its saber-rattling and strengthening of its military capabilities, it doesn't take someone with the acuity of M to recognize that this is potentially going to be a much more problematic relationship for the United States going forward.
Given Russia's nuclear arsenal, 11 time-zone dimensions, and enormous natural resources (that have resulted in increasing European dependence on Russian energy), it is not a stretch to see Putin solidifying his role as the first really big-league bad guy of the new century, a corrupt, scheming, megalomaniacal, major-power leader to force the demented heads of rogue states and terrorists living in Pakistani suburbs into the background of our geopolitical imaginations. That Putin's eccentricities -- his fondness for going shirtless, ideally while killing large animals with his bare hands -- are so colorful will only serve to make it easier for screenwriters and Tom Clancy to turn him into a full blown on-screen baddy.
In fact, there is only one really major problem that Putin poses for those who see his becoming the Goldfinger of the 21st century as the natural next step for him after coming out of the closet this weekend as Russia's near-dictator. And that is that by far the best actor to play him on-screen is … Daniel Craig.
Then again, there's a twist neither Ian Fleming nor Cubby Broccoli could have imagined. Just the shot of life the old franchise needs. The best Bond ever vs. his greatest adversary, both played by the same guy. Sounds pretty compelling … though it is unlikely to be sufficient to distract us from the really dark doings at the Kremlin and their ominous real life implications.
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While NATO bickers over strategy in Libya, BRIC leaders have gathered in Sanya, China, to demonstrate the growing strength of an alternative grouping that has among its principle selling points the fact that it is neither Western nor U.S.-dominated. To compare the world's most potent and enduring military alliance with a loose affiliation of emerging powers that are divided by perhaps more issues than unite them is clearly comparing apples and lychee nuts or guarana seeds, but the juxtaposition of the two events does offer yet another whiff of how the institutions and ideas of the 20th century are giving way to those of the 21st.
In Libya, the potent alliance that "won" the Cold War is coming apart at the seams fighting over strategy, tactics, and objectives in an optional, low-grade intervention in a largely irrelevant country. The U.S. secretary of state is forced to make public pleas for the bumptious commanders of the coalition to get their acts together, while on the ground the weakened forces of the isolated Muammar al-Qaddafi seem to be holding the megapower onslaught at bay. It is too poignant a reminder that intangibles like knowing what you're fighting for and political will are as important to any battle as the hardware being brought to bear by each side on the other.
In Sanya, Brazil, Russia, India, and the hosts welcomed South Africa into their little club, and if they achieved little else they underscored that they are taking coordination among their countries very seriously and seeking to deepen their ties. However, they did go further and offered a broad agenda including more hints that they will push for alternatives to the dollar-dominated global monetary system that we currently have.
Of course, the BRICs summit resonates with the Libya follies because the original four BRICs voted as a bloc to abstain during the Security Council vote on the imposition of the no-fly zone in Libya and within days of its initiation were publicly speaking out against it. That they were joined in the vote by Europe's most powerful country, Germany, also sent a message that the opposition to the initiative was meaningful and suggested that future votes in international institutions might see the BRICs (or the BRICS … if the final "S" is for South Africa) emerge at the core of a potent new alternative coalition to the traditional Western or developed powers.
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While it is often ruefully noted that you can't pick your relatives, there is an expectation in life that you can pick your partners. Barack Obama is discovering that when you are president of the United States, that's just not the case.
In fact, if there is one theme that runs through every corner of the Obama presidency it is that he has been forced into partnerships that are so complex, difficult, and undependable that it must leave him yearning for the relative simplicity of good old fashioned enmities. This was illustrated yesterday as the president made the short walk across Lafayette Park to visit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, symbolic headquarters of the U.S. business community, a group with which the president has come to realize he must work more closely going forward.
But in and amid all those complicated relationships, which are the most difficult? Naturally, there are many ways to measure this but we'll stick with one: Which among the most difficult are most likely to blow up in his face during the next two years?
Here's the verdict:
This, the most important international bilateral relationship, is both difficult and likely to be relatively stable because it is so complex. There is so much economic co-dependency here that the political issues are likely to work themselves out. Over the next two years trade and currency tensions may grow, but it is unlikely that either side will flirt with a big blow up prior to the 2012 leadership change in China or the presidential elections that same year in the U.S.
China is likely to be the U.S. most important international counterpart in the decade ahead but Russia remains the wildcard among the major powers. Stephen Cohen summed it up well on "Morning Joe" this morning: Russia's the biggest country in landmass, the leader in energy output and it has all those nuclear weapons. It also has a massive Muslim population, related challenges in its near abroad, memories of empire and what might politely be called a mischievous streak when it comes to international challenges. Oh, and it is undergoing a demographic meltdown and it is suffering from a divided less-than-dependably friendly political leadership. It's at the bottom of this list primarily because of the "next two years" focus of our metric.
Israel is the United States' most dependable friend in the Middle East and a vital ally. That said it is also facing massively unsettling changes from within and without that are creating enormous pressures on its political leaders. The Bibi-Barack marriage was never exactly made in Heaven but as the Israelis face demographic pressures at home, the Hezbollah take-over of Lebanon, instability in Jordan and Egypt, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, growing international pressure to cut a deal with the Palestinians and seeming growing inability of the Palestinians to cut a deal due to their own internal divisions ... what was difficult is going to get any easier. While many expect Netanyahu to offer his own concessions and a roadmap to progress sometime soon, there is real concern even among his supporters whether he can go far enough to break the logjam in the peace process. If he can't, pressure will build in this already fraught partnership.
Egypt nudges out Israel only because it is so volatile right now and we don't know where the current unrest now heading into its third week is likely to head. One thing we do know, there are almost no circumstances in which the relationship will be easier for the United States. If there are massive reforms, a more pluralistic Egypt will be harder to deal with than an autocracy with a fairly dependable ally at the helm. If the current regime holds, they will never trust the U.S. in the same way as they did prior to this crisis.
6. Democrats in the Congress
Will Rogers said, "I'm not a member of any organized party, I'm a Democrat!" And as far as we know he never sat at a cocktail party between bickering leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer or Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. (Although, Pelosi clearly had a little celebratory sip of champagne last night to celebrate the departure of Jane Harmon, a longtime thorn in her side.) Pick an issue from fighting the deficit to rationalizing our regulatory framework to investing in energy infrastructure, you'll find both Obama's biggest supporters and some of his most difficult opponents in his own party.
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News from around the world this weekend:
In Israel, during a sermon, 89 year-old Rabbi Ovadia Yousef, spiritual leader of Israel's ultra-orthodox Shas political party, attacked the Palestinian people and their President Mahmoud Abbas, calling them "enemies and haters." Then, he went on to call for their deaths, saying, "May they vanish from the world, may God smite them with the plague, them and the Palestinians, evil-doers and Israelhaters." The Israeli government soon after issued a statement asserting that "These words do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor the position of the government of Israel." This distancing from a key player in a party that is an important part of the current coalition government, holding four seats in the Israeli cabinet, seems pallid in the face of such repugnant remarks that were clearly designed to cast a shadow over the imminent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As one Israeli Knesset member argued, "If God forbid a Muslim religious leader would express similar sentiments toward Jews, he would immediately be arrested."
In Afghanistan, five campaign workers supporting the efforts of a female candidate for the country's parliament, were gunned down. The murders, in Andraskan district of Herat province, followed the kidnapping of the five men on Thursday.
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If I understand this correctly, Russia directed its elite intelligence assets to spend the better part of the past decade trying to infiltrate the New York club scene and the Montclair, New Jersey PTA.
In the scheme, Russian master spies were also trained to ingratiate themselves with influential members of the think tank community in order to glom on to secrets about U.S. foreign policy. While this might seem a futile exercise to some (such as anyone who has ever met a member of the think tank community), there is a greater intellect at work beneath the veneer of palpable insanity which has been cleverly concocted by the heirs to Lavrentiy Beria in the Kremlin. Because any spy that could actually find an influential member of the think tank community would be capable of ferreting out any secret anywhere--including those lurking in the heavily shadowed corners of the Montclair school system. In fact the much rumored but never seen influential think-tanker was alleged to be the focus of the Da Vinci Code until it became clear that it would be much more plausible to actually find the Holy Grail instead.
What's more, of course, should such a spy be able to learn anything at all about U.S. foreign policy when even some of those in the White House who are framing it are clearly clueless about the subject then that spy would deserve at least an Order of the Bare-Chested prime minister with a Double Oak Leaf Cluster. At the very least they would certainly deserve to have a movie made about them.
And with all due deference to the producers of the new Angelina Jolie vehicle Salt who seem to be so actively promoting this spy scandal as a tie-in to their film that I actually think they might be behind the whole thing, this really needs to be another movie. And I don't just say this just because I've never gotten over the way Angelina and Brad abused poor Jen.
No this is a different kind of movie altogether. Something more in the vein of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming or almost anything with Peter Sellers in it. Clearly, Emmanuelle Chriqui needs to play Anna Chapman and while that would probably be enough to get me to go buy a ticket, the rest of the story lends itself to a big comedy and some whacky chase scenes involving mini-vans and secret messages delivered to a playground drop site in an iCarly lunch box. Jason Bateman also deserves a key role, but that's due in part to the fact that he should be in almost any movie. In fact, maybe it should be Judd Apatow's first thriller and he can bring along his wife, Leslie Mann, and Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill and Jason Siegel and the whole gang. Alternatively I vote for passing it along to Kevin Smith who already has an impressive track record of bringing the Garden State to the cinema (who deserves eternal credit for the genius behind Dogma and the inspired casting of Alanis Morissette as the deity.)
Joking aside, however, there is something seriously disturbing about this scandal. And it's not that the Russians have kept spying. Anyone who for one moment thought that they had stopped is so naïve that they probably don't believe that Vladimir Putin sits at home at night -- still bare-chested, flexing his pecs in the mirror and stroking a giant white Persian cat while conspiring with Verne Troyer about how to sabotage the Mall of America roller coaster. No, what's disturbing to an inside-the-beltway denizen like me is that Russia thinks all the action is happening somewhere else. They are more interested in trying to infiltrate accounting firms as a path to connecting themselves with private equity moguls in New York than they are reaching out to real Washingtonians. You think Anna Chapman couldn't have done some damage down here? Don't they read the papers? She'd be First Lady by now. Or at least she'd be on Oprah talking about how she and John Edwards are going to make it work.
Come to think of it, maybe those Russians aren't as silly as they appear. They seem to recognize the difference between real power and the power haircuts that dominate so much of Washington today.
What would the world do without Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? While it may be pleasing to contemplate, the reality is that Iran's leader has become the one nut job that many of the world's other leaders can't do without.
Consider for a moment the following cases:
While this list goes on, however, there is another dimension to the festering tensions with Iran over its nuclear program that may not, as of yet, be fully understood. This relates specifically to Netanyahu's framing of Iran as an existential threat. It may be just that, but not in the way he was envisioning.
Because over the past several years, growing concerns over Iran and its nuclear program have come to trump most others in the Middle East proper. They have transcended in terms of the security threat involved those associated with either the Israeli-Palestinian issue or those associated, at least for now, with al Qaeda (thanks in part to defeats for al Qaeda like today's killing of its leader in Iraq, and thanks in part to the fact that Iran seems to be, in the words of a former colleague of mine who was a career naval officer and Jack London fan, the wolf closest to the sled). Is a potentially nuclear Iran more dangerous than an unstable Pakistan? Probably not... but that's like saying you have two forms of cancer. You want to treat both, but the one that is most threatening at the moment will dominate your attention.
The Israeli government has played up this threat for completely legitimate and understandable reasons. Getting Iran's nuclear program just a little bit wrong might be minor for the world but a really big deal for Israel. However, having thus framed the issue, the Israelis have to live with the consequences... and the consequences are not what they intended.
Because if, as seems likely, the ultimate result of the Iranian nuclear program is (after "engagement" and sanctions ultimately prove ineffective, as seems likely) that we accept the idea of a nuclear Iran and revert to a strategy of containment, paradoxically Israel may move to be less central to U.S. interests in the region, trumped by the urgent need for a strong alliance with Arab states like Saudi, the UAE, Iraq, etc. designed to contain the new Iranian threat. Further, if we create a "nuclear umbrella" for the region, it is hard to imagine treaty or diplomatic language that did not, of necessity, promise to protect those states from all nuclear threats including those posed by Israel.
We're already seeing signs that the risks of having to live with a nuclear Iran are sufficiently real that relations with anti-Iranian Arab states are becoming more and more central -- and thus are likely to give those states an ever greater voice in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Hence all the buzz about seeking to set American terms for a peace, gain Arab support and then go to the Israelis and say, here's the deal: You want to contain Iran, you need to give this serious consideration.
Israel felt compelled to sell the Iranian threat. But their pitch really only would work if they persuaded the world to preempt that threat. If Iran got the bomb, then the geopolitics change, U.S. interests align more closely with those of some historic enemies of Israel, and a difficult relationship becomes even more complex. (And it's not so good now. My bet is that if the Palestinians unilaterally declared independence tomorrow there would be two kinds of reaction worldwide: celebration and, perhaps in a few cases, effective silence. Another point the Israelis need to consider: in the 21st Century emerging powers that are less sympathetic to their case are playing an increasingly important role in shaping multilateral outcomes.)
Ahmadinejad may be the region's indispensable lunatic, but if things keep trending in the current direction, he may ultimately be one that the Israelis could well have done without.
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On the morning of September 11, 2001, the front page of the New York Times contained stories on school dress codes, violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the struggling U.S. economy, stem cells, nuclear smuggling, and morning television.
Which is to say history is what happens when you are looking in the other direction.
That's not to suggest that the lead story in the newspaper is never the most important story of the day. It is however to urge we approach "news" with considerable caution. What seems newsworthy (Woods-Uchitel) is (the Salahis) often (Going Rogue) just a reflection of conventional wisdom about what's important and ignores other minor factors like history or the fact that people tend to want to read about salacious crap or journalists like to write about things that are easy to caricature politically. As with food we tend to be drawn to the fast, easy or tasty without really much consideration of what we really need.
So it is with the Afghanistan story. Now, it's hard to dismiss any presidential decision that will put over 100,000 American troops at risk as being unnewsworthy. But it is undeniable that most of the coverage misses the bigger point: Afghanistan is a costly distraction for the president, the military, and reporters on the lookout for the big stories of our times. It just barely makes the list of our Top 10 Concerns in the Region and would be unlikely to make the list of our Top 20 or 25 National Concerns overall. At least that would certainly be the case had we not made the decision to put so many of our sons and daughters at risk over there.
President Obama's speech seems brilliantly conceived to mesmerize the punditsphere thanks to what will either be seen by supporters as its balance or by its detractors as its compromises. (It's the Certs approach to speech writing: it's both a breath mint and a candy mint -- both an escalation and an exit, an effort to be tough with and to support the Afghan government, to strengthen institutions but not to do "nation building", to make the war about Afghanistan and about Pakistan, to support the military and to support the critics of the war.) But what all that masks is that every minute further the president is focused on Afghanistan and every dollar further we spend there is withdrawn from some other account, some other higher priority.
Let's just take the Middle East to illustrate the point. We begin, of course, with the fact that Afghanistan is not even the biggest challenge we face in AfPak. (That would be Pak, in case you haven't had your coffee yet.)
In fact here's a handy list you can argue about around the water cooler, the biggest challenges America faces in the Middle East in terms of the broader consequences associated with the problem:
And the only reason the decline of the dollar and the fiscal burdens on the U.S. economy that will severely limit our ability to act in the region are not on the list is that they seem very domestic ... but they would rank near the top otherwise. And as I noted before they are linked to the host of other issues domestic and international which actually outrank the Middle East (hard though that may be to believe to all our friends from all those lobbies, think tanks, and government contractors out there.)
This misplaced focus is revealed especially effectively in the regional context thanks to the juxtaposition of the final stages of this "Afghan decision" (and don't delude yourself into believing this is the last such "decision" or that the new policies will go very far toward resolving the core issues associated with stabilizing that country or getting out) with the recent announcement by the Iranians to proceed with plans to build 10 nuclear enrichment facilities. Whether or not they are capable of doing this, by now it should be quite clear that Iran has adopted a stance that virtually every one of America's enemies in the world has adopted during the past year. They have challenged us to demonstrate that we will simply not confront them in any effective way.
Call it Iraq fatigue, blame it on the economic crisis at home, call it a propensity for dithering, call it a learning curve, the primary message the Obama Administration has sent to the world this year is an unintended variation on the one they intended to send: this administration really is different from that of George W. Bush. On international matters, Bush acted without thinking whereas until this week, it seemed, Obama thought without acting. Given the developments of the past few days, it seems the president has now become adept at thinking and then giving the illusion of action while actually compromising many of the benefits of decisiveness away. For example, while committing the troops must be seen as a kind of an action, it is presented as a double negative thanks to the escalation-exit strategy structure. It's what Groucho Marx might have called the "Hello, I must be going" approach.
And the Iran problem illustrates the consequences of focusing elsewhere (although it is just one such example.) Because thanks to Bush's erroneous decision to focus on Iraq and Obama's premature (last Spring) decision to move his chips to Afghanistan -- thanks to their political and economic costs -- the United States has found it ever more difficult to credibly suggest to Iran that there will be any kind of negative consequences to their move toward becoming a nuclear power. And giving the bomb to the world's largest state sponsor of terror is almost certainly a much greater threat than anything we might see in either Afghanistan or Iraq. (Admittedly, Pakistan poses a similar problem ... and for my money, Pakistan and Iran are the places we ought to be focusing the most of our energy and efforts.) In fact, I sometimes wonder who is pulling the strings for the Iranians in the U.S. government because almost every action we have taken in the past decade or so seems to have inadvertently benefitted them or at least made it harder for us to influence them.
In the end, I'm going to cling to optimism and hope that Obama's decision produces the best possible outcome, the one he and his team clearly are hoping for: a few strong blows against al Qaeda and the Taliban, some measurable stabilization and an exit. Because history is happening elsewhere and as long as we are distracted with wars like this, we raise the likelihood that it will be happening to us rather than that we will have a constructive role in shaping it.
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A few quick takes...
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You could tell it wasn't going well. The conversations with Medvedev and Putin were tense, the body language awkward. The speech at the New Economic School laid an egg. The press seemed bored with the visit of America's rock star president. And as for real results, well, there weren't any.
Looking for explanations in an article Clifford Levy and Ellen Barry in today's New York Times called "In Russia, Obama's Star Power Does Not Translate," a range of possible answers were rolled out: Russians are jaded, Russians don't go for U.S. political posturing, Obama's speeches don't translate well, and, according to one person who ought to understand politics, a Russian circus designer, "Russians are the smartest people in the world." (A fact they have carefully hidden behind a veil of hundreds of years of economic and political catastrophe.)
Somehow, the formula that has been working for Barack Obama since early in 2007 suddenly seems to have gone cold. It is not enough simply to be him or to roll out Michelle and the girls (all of whom joined him in Moscow...unlike say, his top two State Department officials). What's more, it's not just Russia. Oh sure, the press still swoon in most corners of the world and crowds and political leaders still get all fluttery when first exposed to America's charming, thoughtful, intelligent, young president. But we are now starting to see what happens when being Barack Obama is not enough. We are now starting to see the shortcomings of the new administration's approach wherein the president has actually been the policy.
He has said we had changed and offered himself as evidence. He has been what we have offered to friends in terms of visits, access and calls. He has been the headline grabber, the spokesperson, the new voice of America. He has enabled the administration to take inherited policies and wrap them in Obama-paper with Obama-glitter all over it and all of a sudden, the old was repackaged into appearing new. Where there have been differences, as with the concept of engagement, the change has been sold as a difference between him and his predecessor, with his speeches describing what was new and the possibility of interacting with him being the potential pay-off.
This played big during his early trips overseas, the novelty value was high and the eagerness to move on from the painful prior era was great. At the G20 meeting, at the Summit of the Americas, in Cairo, the concept of "president as policy" seemed to be working. But now we see where it is not. Not in Russia. Not with the Iranians who are happy to accept engagement and anything else that will be given to them but no strings, please Not with Hugo Chavez, who hammed it up with Obama in Trinidad but led his misfit chorus in reflexively hammering the United States after the coup in Honduras. Certainly not in North Korea.
It seems that having the president as policy works best with the people who are pre-disposed to like us and to some extent with the young and the disenfranchised. But with the hard cases, with our enemies, it falls painfully and dangerously flat.
In these instances, the new president is discovering that something much more than personal diplomacy and smile from the genuinely appealing Obama clan is needed. In these instances, we are going to need to go back to the drawing board and do the grunt work of foreign policy, the tough negotiations, the nuanced position changes, the threats, the cajoling. It's a very different game from American politics and, in fact, is often completely unconnected to it. What works here, very often does not play at all overseas.
There is a problem with this new reality. It requires a coordinated, multi-tiered, high-functioning foreign policy establishment. It needs the State Department to be in a central role. It needs the NSC to work both as a policy development and policy implementation mechanism and the National Security Advisor to be seen and respected...like the Secretary of State...as key advisors. It requires that the foreign policy of the United States is not centered too heavily either the president or the executive office of the president -- although the president will always remain the ultimate key. It is perfectly appropriate for the president to be part of the product, part of the rewards offered, and the mastermind...but he needs to move beyond campaign mode to something new. It is much akin to the entrepreneur of a successful company recognizing that for the company to grow further, to become a mature organization, he is going to need a mature structure that depends less on him and more on delegation of power to effective lieutenants and their teams.
We're not there yet. The secretary of state and the State Department have been visibly marginalized. She has become a kind of behind the scenes player. She's not on the Sunday morning shows. The president or the vice president handles the big media assignments (often not sounding exactly like they were on the same page). The National Security Advisor, for all his personal strengths, is viewed as a bit of a lost cause five months into the presidency. One of his predecessors in the job said to me when asked whether he viewed General Jones as failing in the job, "to me, on that issue, where there is smoke, there is fire." Tom Donilon, Jones's deputy, is seen to be managing the NSC process. Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert, Obama confidantes, are seen to be working closely with him and his inner office team (Rahm Emanuel, the VP, David Axelrod, Greg Craig and others) to play the leading role in shaping policy.
Clearly neither Hillary Clinton nor Jim Jones is a weak person. But all power in the U.S. national security apparatus flows from the president. And there is no denying that, despite the fact that they show up at work every day and go through the motions, that their roles don't measure up to many of their predecessors and the structure that is emerging suggests problems to come.
It's time to move out of campaign mode and into governing mode. It's time recognize that it really does take a big team of empowered leaders to make the complex foreign policy of the U.S. work and evolve in the right directions. It's time to recognize that it does not reflect badly on the president if we all agree he cannot transform the world single handedly, that however different he may be from his predecessors, that alone is not enough.
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Washington is a city of oxymorons. It is a city of garden variety morons, as well. On the oxymoron side we have old favorites like "military intelligence," "compassionate conservative," and "government organization." On the moron side...well, in U.S. politics we have morons on both sides.
Now we have something new however, as in Washington the oxymorons and the morons are coming together in the form of America's latest reality television extravaganza (we really needed another): "Real World Washington." This is a unique double oxymoron in that it calls itself real but, like most reality TV, it is not...and because it is suggesting, fancifully, that there is somehow a connection between Washington and the real world. As for the morons, well you need only visit the bars around the DuPont Circle neighborhood location of the Real World set and you can view for yourself the cast in all their beer-soaked glory.
At first I wondered to myself how it was that a show like "The Real World" could have become MTV's longest-running hit, now in its 17th year. After all, it's pretty formulaic. Semi-attractive young adults including at least one or two with deep psychological problems are put together in a house in which they: drink, puke, appear to grope one another in grainy night-vision camera shots, and then fight about who groped whom.
Of course, thinking of it that way, I naturally started to wonder why it took so long for the show to come to the home of American politics which have been featuring all these activities for years. (For those of you who are more insensitive than I, insert Teddy Kennedy joke here. And for those of you who don't have the stomach for such humor but still want a laugh at the expense of all that Kennedy family groping, see this link about a new book on America's zany royal family.)
Once I started thinking about politicians and groping and the real world, however, my thoughts immediately drifted eastward, out over the Atlantic, and in the direction of the world's most famous aging libido, that of the host of this week's G8 Meeting, Silvio Berlusconi. This in turn led to a thunderbolt of inspiration akin to that which struck another famous Italian in the Berlusconi mold, Michael Corleone, when he first saw the ill-fated Apollonia Vitelli. What about the Real World Berlusconi-style? What about Real World L'Aquila? Once we get the G8 leaders to Italy, why don't we lock them in a room until they actually produce something productive? And let's put it all on video! Big Brother for Big Brother!
And to keep it interesting we can add elements of other reality shows. For example, how about a taste of Real Housewives Berlusconi-style, while we're at it. Just locking Silvio and his really (justifiably) angry, estranged wife Veronica Lario in a house for the enjoyment of tv audiences everywhere would be irresistible.But throw her in with a bunch of other world leaders? See what happens when Silvio shoots an ill-considered glance in the direction of Michelle Obama? Who's wailing on him first? Veronica, Barack or Michelle? (My money is on Michelle.) Sadly, of course, Veronica is passing on the G8 Summit, forcing the Italians to turn the wife of their president to be the hostess for the affair.
We still have plenty of fun cast to choose from, however, given that the meetings in Italy will actually be attended by more than 25 countries, including all the G20. Just think of the potential gang we could feature in the house that meet the Real World formula for diversity and mayhem.
Given the fact that Berlusconi will be joined in Italy by members of the G20, the cast can be expanded to included a diverse enough group of lively characters to make this one version of Real World actually look a lot more like the real world than its many predecessors. South Africa's Jacob Zuma is, for example, a party all by himself with four wives, three other fiancés, perhaps as many as 18 children, and a list of run-ins with the law that would allow him to play the bad boy role. China's Hu Jintao was reportedly fond of singing and dancing in his teen years and therefore might add a little lift to those party nights out. And although Brazil's President Lula and Zuma may only have achieved the fourth and fifth grade in school, respectively, this actually makes them educationally over-qualified by Real World standards.
Sadly for the Real World premise...and for the real world...not many of the visiting leaders are women so we will have to rely on host Berlusconi to add a few of his close personal friends to add a little sexual tension to the show. But what with party credentials of the crowd gathering in L'Aquila and the help of Il Cavaliere it's clear this could make for fine viewing. If we wanted to make it something more than that...and something more than the bland communiqué machine G8 meetings typically are...we could add a different reality show twist, à la say "Big Brother" or "Survivor," in which participants are voted out after each week. Except in this instance, what we could do is rely on the general odiousness of hanging out with pols around the clock to motivate the cast to want to leave the house, but then not let them out unless they actually get something done in their negotiations. Think how that system would change the nature of summits. Although my fear is that rather than producing more productive meetings of government leaders, the requirement that they get something done would actually lead to the end of summits altogether.
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Millions of you turn to this blog site every day because you feel I will offer you insights that will help you make sense of the world. I know this. It's a humbling responsibility. And frankly, the enormity of it forces me to offer a confession. Today I reviewed the morning papers as I usually do (online, sans paper) and watched the early broadcasts of TV news organizations and I have got to admit it, I find everything pretty confusing.
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Talent is important. There is no doubt about it. But character and attitude are defining. Yesterday, nearing the end of the longest set in the 133-year history of Wimbledon, locked in a titanic struggle with an opponent who was playing heroic tennis, Roger Federer said he told himself that "at 13-13 in the fifth set, I'm exactly where I want to be, just a few points from victory." Sure, you can look at things negatively, but my positive side is important and I really believed right until the end."
If Federer has an equal in the world of sports in terms of character and attitude, it is his friend, another who is the best to have ever played his sport, Tiger Woods. Yesterday, he too stood at a turning point in a tournament, having lost sole possession of his lead thanks to a bad shot on the preceding hole. "You can go either way," Woods is quoted as saying in today's Washington Post, "You can win the tournament or you can lose the tournament." Of course, once again, Woods like Federer summoned what was necessary to win. As Barry Svrluga wrote in the Post, "pressure, with Woods, is like an old, dear embraceable friend." It is not a friend because it feels good. It is a friend because his extraordinary gift for handling pressure, like Federer, is what separates him from his opponents time and time again.
These events, juxtaposed with the death of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Obama's trip to Russia and to the G8 meeting, drive home an important message. David Halberstam's classic book about McNamara and his colleagues during the Kennedy administration is, of course, called The Best and the Brightest. It is a phrase that has worked its way into the language, often invoked about the glittering prizes Obama has surrounded himself with. What has been forgotten is Halberstam's message. The title was ironic. Being the best and the brightest is not enough. More than anything else, character matters. The ability to rise up and play at your best in the face of the greatest pressure is why often those with seemingly limited tools from Lincoln to Truman, outperform the academic superstars and those with the fancy degrees, like Carter or George W. Bush. (Of course, it didn't help Bush that he was neither the best nor the brightest nor possessed of the character of a great leader.)
We already have some clues as to what may test the character of Obama's national security team. His meetings today in Russia suggest one relationship which is certain to do so. Despite the face-saving "framework agreement" (a Washington euphemism for a decision to keep talking in spite of differences so serious that they kept the sides from providing any real progress for the leaders to hail in their meetings), it is clear that the U.S.-Russia relationship is not going to be an easy one for Obama. Last week he took a couple of swipes at Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and yesterday he offered encouragement for reforms proposed by Putin's protégé, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Whether this was deft maneuvering was debated in today's papers but it is clear that the U.S. administration is uncomfortable with Putin's often confrontational, often anti-democratic, sometimes overtly anti-U.S. stance.
As noted here last week, senior State Department officials feel Russia has been far from helpful on the issue of Iran's nukes. It has been provocative in its own near abroad. It has used its energy supplies as a cudgel that heightens regional tensions. And it is not making matters easier by demanding the U.S. back away from plans for an East European missile defense as part of any arms deal. Obama & Co. have been properly tight-lipped on this but I'm concerned that their impulse is to give in on this issue -- at least in part because they are starting to believe their own rhetoric that the missile defenses are designed primarily to keep out Iranian ballistic missiles. Iran is of course, a concern. But so too is Russia. In fact, let's be honest: it is a hostile, highly armed, economically and socially challenged Russia that remains the main reason to have such a defense. If not because of threats they post today then because they may well pose serious threats in the future. (And if you don't believe missile defense works well enough to fight for it...view it purely as a useful bargaining chip.)
It would almost certainly be politically easier to cave on the missile defenses in order to win some progress on an arms deal with Russia. Just as it would be politically easier to proceed with a deal with Iran on nukes even if we don't really believe they will honor it or let us effectively monitor them. Just as it is politically easier to take a partial solution on health care or half a loaf on climate change. The looming question is whether this an administration that talks a good game but folds when the going gets tough. (And of course, I'm hopeful it's not.)
The Russians we know will press and press and bully and bully. The question is whether Obama will be able to respond shot for shot, holding his ground, remaining focused on his true goal, which needs to be not winning a round of negotiations but rather winning in the bigger contest of ensuring a more stable world in the long term. Frankly, the fact that reports out of Russia suggest some turbulence is encouraging to me, a sign of a U.S. team that is holding its ground. (Although I can't help but comment that I think it is a little weird that neither the Secretary of State nor the Deputy Secretary of State is accompanying the president on this trip. Elbow injuries notwithstanding.)
On arms control, we learned over the weekend new details about Obama's formative thinking on the issue thanks to a New York Times article exploring a paper he wrote on the subject while a student at Columbia. He has clearly been grappling with this issue a long time and as described in his Prague speech on his last major trip to Europe, he has described ambitious goals. If he can use concessions to the Russians on missile defense to advance those goals meaningfully, if he can use them to get the Russians to be more effective in helping to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, if he can use them to move Russia toward leading us to a meaningfully improved successor to Start I and that agreement in turn to build good will to move toward further reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles and ultimately toward a new NPT, excellent.
The difference between sports stars and presidents of course, is that when the character of presidents fail, we all lose. And when it succeeds, we all benefit. Watch the news this week from Moscow and Italy to see whether we can see whether Obama is learning the lessons of Federer, Woods...and McNamara.
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In case you missed it...and unless you were in Lente, Italy this weekend you probably did...the G8 Finance Ministers met to reassure one another of their relevance. By this metric alone, they were not very successful.
Not only has the G8 been rightfully eclipsed by the G20 as the relevant forum for addressing the current financial crisis, but many of the reasons for past G8 meetings seem to have faded or been overtaken by developments. First, the European members of the group only have one monetary policy between them and that one doesn't seem to be going so well. Next, European leaders have effectively opted out from anything other than rhetorical interventions in world markets in the wake of the crisis. Third, even on the rhetorical front there is precious little consensus among the leaders of these countries.
This last point is ironic since the reason G8-ophiles give for continuing to operate the group even given the absence of the key emerging economies is that we need to gather "like-minded" countries. But the Europeans want big change in the international system. And the Americans seem to want as little change as possible.
No meaningful addressing of the "too big to fail" issue. No meaningful addressing of executive compensation. No meaningful regulatory reform. (Just strengthened coordination which, without new global rules and enforcement mechanisms, is just a page from the "what I said before only louder" policy playbook, a favorite for the governments everywhere. For another example see again the recent U.N. "sanctions" against North Korea.) The whole approach to the financial crisis seems to be: "What? There's no wizard? There's a man behind the curtain?! Shit. Give me a drink of stimulus. In fact, give me enough shots of stimulus that I can forget that there's no man behind the curtain and get back to believing in the wizard. Gosh, I loved that wizard. Wizard...wizard...where are you wizard?")
If because you missed the relevance of the G8 gathering then you may be forgiven for not recognizing that the session's irrelevance is being underscored by the relative importance of the meeting in a couple days of leaders of the BRIC countries in Ekaterinberg in Russia. This site was no doubt offered up the Russians because of its rich, resonant irony. That's because it was near Ekaterinberg that the last of the czars and his family finally met their end, and it is at this location the BRICs hope to realize the promise of Fareed Zakaria's Post-American World by cutting down to size the closest thing to an imperial power the world has these days...which sadly, fellow Americans, would be us.
The not-so-secret weapon of this group, besides their size, their resources, their power and, most importantly, their growing significance, is their ability to coordinate their policies. This is not so easy, their interests often conflict (example: Brazil and India want in to the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China are not so enthusiastic about their joining). But try to imagine our arriving at a solution to the problems in North Korea or with Iran's nuclear program, containing threats in Pakistan, stability in Central Asia, or from climate change, or running the world trading system without them and you see the potency of the group...if they stick together. This is particularly true with the one issue that no doubt will be central to this week's discussions -- their effort to assert significant influence over the future value of the dollar. In recent months, BRIC leaders have argued for the adoption of a new international currency (not so realistic), they have shown a willingness to purchase/use IMF SDRs (standard drawing rights, a kind of currency equivalent) instead of dollars, and they have talked about their doubts about the dollar.
It is often said that it would hurt the Chinese and the others for the dollar to collapse given their currency holdings and their dependency on trade with and investment from the United States. And while this is true, that doesn't minimize the leverage they gain from proving to the world that they can play a role in establishing the price of the dollar and that they are not unwilling to use this power. In fact, their recent statements and actions prove this but I think it's fair to speculate that they will, at some point, rattle the saber even louder to enhance the leverage they already have. (It's a power they've used increasingly. The Chinese called the U.S. Treasury during the Fannie Mae crisis to demand action with the more than implicit "or else" being the sell off of U.S. government securities.)
Having said all this...and despite the importance of Russia's oil and nukes, India's billion people and promise and Brazil's continental size, ag export leadership, and recent oil discoveries...there is one critical fact to remember about the BRICs:
Without China, the BRICs are just the BRI, a bland, soft cheese that is primarily known for the whine that goes with it. China is the muscle of the group and the Chinese know it. They have effective veto power over any BRIC initiatives because without them, who cares really? They are the one with the big reserves. They are the biggest potential market. They are the U.S. partner in the G2 (imagine the coverage a G2 meeting gets vs. a G8 meeting) and the E2 (no climate deal without them) and so on. And so while the Russians have been the most eager of organizers of the BRICs because they want to create a counterbalance to U.S. power (not a terrible thing, I think for the world or for the United States given what we've seen of our tendencies when we do when being the sole superpower goes to our head), we should see the emergence of the BRIC bloc for what it is at its heart, a major amplifier of the influence of the country at its heart, China.
As an aside, I don't think we should see the rise of a counterbalancing bloc as a terrible thing either for the world or even for America. While having enemies is to be avoided wherever possible, having rivals is essential. It promotes reevaluation and growth. Imagine what computing would be like if we lived in an all Microsoft, Apple-less world. They make each other better. (Which in that case means Microsoft forces the smaller Apple to be innovative and Apple forces the Microsoft behemoth to be less awful.)
That said, we should also recognize how far the bloc has come in its development and consider that in the future they are -- strengths, weaknesses, imbalances, tensions and all -- the most likely counterbalance to U.S. influence...and for that matter to the influence of more radical voices like those of rogue states or of extremist Islam somehow united (which is much less likely than the BRICs keeping their act together.)
Having said that, I have to emphasize that they are not a direct threat to the United States and we should not view them as an enemy. Their efforts to align themselves actually is likely to diminish the tendency that any one of them may have (I'm talking about you, Vladimir) to stray into more confrontational postures. And so long as they responsibly play the voice they assert they seek -- as an effective counterbalance to the U.S. representing the equities of major populations worldwide -- they actually have a very constructive and useful role to play in global affairs.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama is now coming to the end of the candyman phase of his presidency. That's the part where he can play to core constituencies and those whose support he would entertain with big gifts -- stimulus money, tax cuts, and promises of policy changes. It's the part where the booty of an election win is spread around -- jobs are given to loyal supporters, and foreign policy victories are scored simply by telling a once-disgruntled ally what they've long been waiting to hear.
But now starts the hard part. Now, the president must grapple with the tough part of leading -- where friends don't get what they want, where allies are pushed and prodded and threatened and punished if they don't fall into line. When force is required, and all eyes are on the United States and the policy initiatives that are under fire can no longer be blamed on the last president.
To help prepare for this period, here are 10 tough decisions that Obama will face in the very foreseeable future.
Will he soon be forced to sacrifice putting a price on carbon for political expediency? Will he actually be willing to trade cap and trade for health care as current conventional wisdom would have it...and then enter into a midterm election year when doing a cap and trade deal may be even harder? Will he be willing to use the classification of carbon as a pollutant as a regulatory bludgeon on this issue hard... and necessary... as that may be on many industries?
2. Failing economy
When the U.S. economy underperforms estimates in the next few years, will he be willing to increase taxes on middle class taxpayers... or exacerbate class tensions by continuing to place all the burden on the most affluent Americans? Where is he willing to make meaningful cuts? Defense? Entitlements?
3. Necessary roughness
He won't use force in Iran to stop proliferation; that already seems clear. But will he use it to stabilize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal should it come under siege? Or to stop massive slaughter in Central Africa? Where will he be willing to use force in a place that the U.S. is not already engaged in a conflict?
4. Walking the walk
Europeans love hearing a U.S. leader talk multilateralism, but they don't yet seem to realize that when he talks the talk, they have to walk the walk. Will he be willing to confront and pressure them to step up in a way they did not at the last NATO meeting?
5. Open trade vs. U.S. jobs
How and when will he reconcile his promises to the world to maintain open trading systems and his promises to unions to protect American jobs? Since he can't, who is he willing to anger when he backs off his competing pledges?
6. When the bailouts only go so far...
What will happen when it is clear that GM can't be saved in its present form and the resulting dislocation will knock tens of thousands of people out of work?
7. An uncooperative Israel
What happens when ultimately his desire to mediate in the Middle East and to reduce tension runs up against an ally, Israel say, who is not cooperative? Is he willing to pay the political consequences of confronting the Israeli government? What if they are in the right and Hamas or Iran is clearly the problem? Is he willing to pay the political consequences of getting tough on them?
8. China & Russia
Is the United States willing to accept growing Chinese or Russian influence in the Western Hemisphere due to their engagement and our disengagement? What happens when resource pressures force the United States to say no to big international aid programs at precisely the moment when he and his team want to give more? Is he willing to be unpopular overseas to maintain support at home?
9. Wall Street
If it is clear that Wall Street firms can't recover without paying Wall Street salaries... or that the administration can't function without actually hiring lobbyists... is he willing to back off his completely understandable but perhaps impractical populist stances on these issues, admit he was wrong and defend a course of action that is unpopular but necessary?
10. No more Mr. Popular
On what issues is he willing to actually be unpopular? Thoughts? (This is only a partial list of course, and your suggestions are welcome.) Personally, I'm willing to bet that he rises to the test and sooner than you would think.
One good sign from my perspective: the apparent decision to hire Harold and Kumar, Van Wilder and "House" star, Kal Penn, to join his public liaison team. After all, who better to get down into the weeds of an issue or to help the president achieve the high highs promised in the campaign than Kumar? Next up: Neil Patrick Harris for surgeon general (why put all that valuable Doogie Howser experience to waste?)
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Today, President Obama is following in the footsteps of great American diplomats like Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Romany Malco. Our 47-year-old foreign policy virgin, like those who went before him cinematically, is experiencing the exhilaration, high highs, low lows and comedy (intentional and otherwise) of speed dating. In Obama's case, this first full day in London for the G20 Summit has produced a round of diplomatic hooking up with...
With whom Obama had a very public, rather hard-to-watch quickie in Washington not too long ago. While perhaps not quite as awkward as movie speed-dater Paul Rudd's desperate attempt to fix his battered relationship with old flame Amy (the incomparable Mindy Kaling), like Rudd, Brown had a lot riding on this meeting turning out better than the last one between the two. According to reports, it did, with the two of them providing the media highlight of the morning with a question and answer session with the press. During the session, the two said that they were highly compatible, enjoyed long-walks on the beach and wanted to turn what Obama called "a sense of urgency" into "working alongside the United Kingdom in doing whatever it takes to stimulate growth."
Dmitry "Call me Gina" Medvedev
This meeting was probably the diplomatic high point of the day. With an outcome that involved an invitation to go back to Dmitry's place this coming July, they also agreed to see whether they could reach an agreement on missile defense and trimming back their nuclear weapons to mutually acceptable levels. It is easy to imagine the exchange:
"You're a good lookin' man."
Barack: "Thank you."
Dmitry: "Very pretty. Real soft, delicate features. They're real feminine, you know, which is good for me, because that would be a simple sort of transition. You know what I'm saying? Maybe throw a little rouge on you... maybe tuck back your SAC (Strategic Air Command)?
O.K. Maybe it wasn't exactly like it was in The 40 Year Old Virgin but I'm working a metaphor here and you have to bear with me. And it does capture some of the hopeful innocence and yet manipulative desire that no doubt infused the scene as Medvedev sought a brand new type of relationship with the United States -- one in which he felt he might be able to take advantage of the man across the table's eagerness to strike a deal, an eagerness that might lead this president, given our circumstances, to consider the kind of partnership between the two countries his predecessors might have ruled out.
By this point, Obama's charm offensive was producing impressive results, with the two leaders exchanging digits to ensure an on-going Strategic Economic Dialogue and cooperation on North Korea and Iran. And because Obama neatly sidestepped a discussion about human rights (which is just never appropriate for a couple's first meeting), tabling it for a future date, he got another invitation: the chance to visit Hu's Forbidden City sometime later this year.
This was a threesome, joined by wife Michelle, who has spent the day dazzling London. Obama indicated how enthusiastic he was about the meeting earlier in the day at the press conference with Brown when he said, "There's one last thing that I should mention that I love about Great Britain, and that is the Queen." And who doesn't really? Although Obama did add an element of decorum to his public statement of love for the monarch when he added, "I think in the imagination of people throughout America, I think what the Queen stands for and her decency and her civility, what she represents, that's very important." He showed her what she meant to him by giving her an iPod that had on it video and pictures from her last visit to the U.S. and one can only imagine what else. A special playlist is always a nice gift. Anyway, it's a technological cut above the DVDs Obama left Brown with on the PM's walk of shame away from their DC meeting a couple weeks ago.
Then, tonight, a romantic dinner catered by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. All in all a perfect, love filled "Date-a-Palooza" for Obama, aside from the screaming mobs in the streets outside.
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
I worry sometimes that we are going to suffer the international consequences of a bad case of don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-butt-George, we-want-to-heal-the-wounds-so-can't-we-all-get-along-now, with muscle-atrophying complications caused by the double onset of Iraq fatigue and financial disaster.
It struck me as I read first of Joe Biden's "reset button" comments re: Russia at the Munich Security Conference and then as I followed the progress of the Obama Administration's other outreach to Russia.
There is a view among some very senior Dem foreign policy types that now we can make a deal with Russia, that using our charms and our deftness we can coax Vladimir Putin and his little dancing monkey Medvedev back into acceptable behavior. The theory is all we have to do is a give a little on missile defense (cave completely to the Russians), give a little on the ideas that underlie NATO expansion (accept their idea of the entire near abroad, and then some, being in their sphere of influence), treat Russia like the virtuous superpower it wishes it were (except for the virtue part), and we can resume our path to the democratic dream of Russia that intoxicated Clinton administration foreign policy makers more severely than any of the anti-freeze that had the President's buddy Boris Yeltsin on his ass half the time.
Of course, in the Kremlin, like elsewhere in the world, they are viewing this slightly differently. They see an administration tending to a fire at home and eager to heal the wounds of the Bush years and they are calculating that it will be soft, pliable, and easier to negotiate with than anyone Elliot Spitzer was seeing at the Mayflower.
In Teheran, in Damascus, in Havana, in Pyongyang, and around the world leaders are thinking, never has the United States been in such a position -- one where concessions will look like diplomacy and play on Main Street U.S.A. better than have in years. Joe Biden was right, Obama will be tested.
Some of the tests -- Russia's move in Kyrgyzstan (which has the Chinese very unhappy too as they had wanted to avoid seeing the "great game" between them, Russia and the muslim world creep deeper in Central Asia), North Korea's missile maneuvers, the Iranian provocations that accompany their sporadic "let's make nice" vibe -- will be of the saber rattling variety. But some will be subtler and will actually appear to the naked eye like the United States is making progress, achieving our goals of a better functioning international system while all it is really doing is strengthening potential adversaries or rivals.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for healing the multiple wounds (self-inflicted and otherwise) of the Bush era. I also think we should seek to find common ground where it exists. But it's worth remembering that just because we have restored the character of American leadership doesn't mean we have changed the character of everyone else's leadership. Trust me on this, Putin is a bad guy. He can be charming, and as Bush said, he has those romantic deep blue eyes (although personally, I wish he would keep his shirt on in photos), but he will accept what he is given right up until he feels he has to take what he wants.
I understand Russia has deep financial, social, demographic, environmental and almost every other sort of problems. I understand that can make them appear more inclined to concessions. I understand that much good has happened in Russia in the past decade and a half. But, Georgia, the Ukraine energy stand-off, Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, their stance with regard to Iran and a host of other instances underscore that they believe that within certain geographic boundaries they should be allowed to set the rules and that is in no one's interest. (And given the recent ugly bromance that has popped up between the narcissism twins, Vlad and Hugo, we can calculate those geographic boundaries may expand in ways that would have offended even James Monroe.) We've seen that movie before and they need to know that not only won't we tolerate it, but that we will do everything within reason to stop it...including pushing them away from the head table of nations.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.