Monday, Sep. 09, 2013
Across The Red Line
By Michael Crowley

Barack Obama ran for President to get the U.S. out of wars, not into them.

Foreign policy grants American presidents almost supernatural powers. From thousands of miles away, they can mobilize fleets and squadrons at a whim, sometimes killing without risking a single soldier's life. But foreign policy can also become a curse, with an equally mystical ability to ruin a presidency. Barack Obama learned that lesson watching his predecessor wage what Obama famously called "a dumb war" of choice in Iraq. His opposition to the invasion launched the one-term Senator's first presidential run, and he arrived in the White House with a clear vision of a humbler America narrowly focused on core interests, like healing domestic economic and social wounds. Obama would hunt down terrorists in caves and deserts and throw a harder punch at the Taliban in Afghanistan. But he also presented himself as a conciliator, a peacemaker who would land the Nobel Peace Prize before he'd even redecorated the Oval Office.

From the start of his presidency, Obama sounded his call in speeches from Washington to Prague to Cairo, describing a transformed world order--"a revolutionary world" where "we can do improbable, sometimes impossible things." Cynics said Obama was just putting a gloss on harsh economic reality: deep in debt and with its financial sector in a tailspin, the U.S. couldn't afford an interventionist foreign policy. But Obama seemed genuine enough when he spoke of starting a dialogue of "mutual respect" with Iran, and to other rivals, he vowed that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Reason would replace raw power, and the neoconservative vision would be retired. It was hope and change on a global scale.

But history, it has turned out, wasn't interested.

The fists remained clenched, the rhetoric toward the U.S. was disrespectful, and although there was revolution from Cairo to Tripoli to Damascus, it often unleashed dangerous religious and tribal passions across the Middle East. The hope has fermented into fear, the change into danger. Now, in a region that has confounded Presidents for decades and where the security stakes are highest, Obama faces a defining test in Syria.

This is not where Obama wanted to be. On Aug. 22, one day after a cloud of what is suspected to have been nerve gas descended on a Damascus suburb, killing hundreds of people, the President left the White House for an all-smiles bus tour of upstate New York, focused on college affordability. But that morning in the Situation Room, Obama's national-security team was grasping the shocking scale of the attack and its implicit challenge to American power and authority.

In a bitter irony, the attack had come on the one-year anniversary of Obama's warning that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime constituted a "red line" that, if crossed, would have "enormous consequences." Video footage showed ghastly images of the dead, including women and infants, who almost seemed fortunate compared with the spasming, frothing survivors. As Obama was briefed on his presidential bus, it became clear that he too was facing the prospect of military action in the Middle East over weapons of mass destruction.

The world watched to see whether Obama would flinch from the role of global cop. He had already allowed multiple chemical-weapons attacks to come and go without any clear consequences beyond modest U.S. support for a disorderly rebel movement.

And the Syria crisis was not the only one testing the limits of Obama's foreign policy approach or the power of his country. Iran is moving forward with its nuclear program in defiance of Obama's similar warnings of military retribution. In Egypt a military regime backed by U.S. taxpayers continues to ignore his calls for peace after it killed more than 600 protesters. Afghanistan's shaky government warily prepares for the prospect of civil war when U.S. troops finally leave next year, while terrorist bombs continue to torment the unstable cities of Iraq. Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, is alive and well in places like Yemen and North Africa, even if Osama bin Laden is not. At home, the perception of his foreign policy performance has steadily declined: only about 40% of Americans now approve.

Syria's defiance, if left unpunished, risked a domino effect of further defiant actions around the globe, the White House concluded. "We have our reputation on the line," explains Brent Scowcroft, the onetime National Security Adviser to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford who has informally advised Obama.

It was exactly the place Obama hoped to avoid in those early optimistic speeches around the world: boxed in by the madness of the Middle East, forced into military action by Syria's dictator, a former ophthalmologist most Americans would be hard-pressed to name.

The Road to Damascus
How did it come to this? some of it is bad luck--although that often comes with the job: Bush had 9/11, Clinton had the Balkans, Carter had the Iranian hostages. But Obama has made missteps as well. The art of foreign policy is preventing no-win decisions from ever presenting themselves. And in retrospect, Obama's caution may have worked against him.

From the start, he kept a wary distance from the Arab Spring. The first incarnation, though it wasn't obvious at the time, was the reform movement that filled the streets of Tehran in June 2009. Calling for regime change might have had a Bushian ring, and the White House feared making statements that would allow Iran's government to make the protests look like a foreign plot. Obama wound up saying only that the U.S. would "bear witness to the extraordinary events" taking place there, with little support for the protests. In hindsight, his staff found fault with the timidity. "I think we were too cautious," says Dennis Ross, the point man for Iran policy in Obama's first term. "I regret it." It was, perhaps, a harbinger of things to come.

As protests ignited across the Middle East two years later, Obama continued to tread lightly--choosing stability over the risk of the unknown and refusing to lay out any unified theory of U.S. reaction. "Trying to calibrate how we need the U.S. to involve itself without overextending has been a central foreign policy question of this presidency," says Ben Rhodes, Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser.

It took Obama weeks to embrace the 2011 Cairo protests that forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power. When the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain--a strategic ally and host to the U.S. Fifth Fleet--violently repressed a popular uprising, Obama took no action. Even in Libya, he at first stood by as rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi's forces found themselves outgunned and on the run.

Obama finally intervened only when Gaddafi's forces massed outside the city of Benghazi, threatening a slaughter of innocents while pressure mounted from France and Britain. Republicans latched onto this as "leading from behind," a phrase uttered by an Obama aide to draw a contrast with George Bush's pre-emptive cowboy diplomacy but which critics called an abdication of real leadership.

Gaddafi's relatively quick downfall initially made the intervention in Libya appear a success. "[We've] demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century," Obama said. But the story would sour. Wary of trying to rebuild another Arab nation, Obama invested little in post-Gaddafi Libya, where rogue militias and radicalism flourished--including the militants who attacked an underguarded U.S. compound in Benghazi, the very city Obama had saved, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The Syrian uprising began in earnest around the same time as Obama's Libya operation. He watched Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime brutally respond for another six months but took no action. As the death toll mounted, observers who saw an "Obama doctrine" in the Libya intervention wondered, Why not Syria? Obama's aides say the comparison is futile. "The notion of a doctrine is good as an organizing principle for people thinking about foreign policy," Rhodes says. "But in government, it's impossible in practice."

Syria was clearly a harder problem. Libya had shabby air defenses and offered a desert battlefield that made air strikes easy. Syria has densely populated cities, and Assad has serious firepower. Unlike Gaddafi, who had no close international allies, Syria boasts decades of military and intelligence partnerships with both Iran and Russia. Obama waited until August 2011 to declare that "the time has come for President Assad to step aside." In hindsight, this may have been his first misstep in Syria. When Assad ignored the advice, the dictator faced no consequences. "He hasn't gotten the message," Obama told reporters a year later. More likely, Assad saw no reason to heed it.

Not that Obama had great choices. Some argue that he could have escalated support for Syria's moderate rebel factions a year or more ago, before radical Islamists hijacked the uprising. Even at the end of 2012, top Obama officials, including Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, were still arguing for this course. But Obama rejected their proposals, fearing the U.S. could do little to influence such a complex situation. He also worried about empowering al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels who could threaten U.S. interests more than Assad ever did. Now, even onetime supporters of such policies say the window has likely closed. "Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides," none of whom share U.S. interests, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey recently wrote.

Then there was the "red line" statement. In response to a question at a White House press briefing in August 2012, Obama said the use or movement of chemical weapons would have "enormous consequences." Obama likely came to regret that remark. Assad seemed to taunt him with small-scale chemical attacks--large enough to kill dozens but not quite enough to precipitate an international crisis. Perhaps in response, Obama fine-tuned his red-line definition last April, saying it was the "systematic" use of chemical arms he would not tolerate. By June 2013, with Assad gaining a clear upper hand, the Administration said it would finally arm Syria's rebels. But credible reports that few, if any, arms have actually been delivered again cast doubt on Obama's resolve.

The apparent nerve-gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21 became the final straw. Here was a culmination of factors: evidence of a pattern of attacks and grotesque footage of victims suffering convulsions. It was a "moral obscenity," as Secretary of State John Kerry put it, that was too much for Obama to ignore, explain away or refer to a committee for study.

The timing was perfectly terrible, at a moment when Obama already appeared intent on favoring stability over American values. Seventeen phone calls from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Egyptian General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi had failed to stop the coup and bloodshed there. Now Washington is left with few vocal allies in the Arab world's most populous country. "It is pretty remarkable," says Eliot Cohen, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "that we've managed to convince everybody in Egypt we've betrayed them."

Limits of Power
Some of Obama's problems have a familiar ring. Early in his first term, Bill Clinton--who, like Obama, focused on domestic matters--also faced charges of timidity and weakness. "We simply don't have the leverage, we don't have the influence [or] the inclination to use military force," a senior State Department official complained in 1993. And much as Obama is facing pressure at home and abroad over Syria, Clinton was castigated for not intervening in the Balkan wars. "The position of leader of the free world is vacant," French President Jacques Chirac lamented in 1995.

Obama has likewise developed a strangely broad coalition of critics: humanitarians who want to stop the war in Syria; hawks who want a bolder U.S. foreign policy; democracy and human-rights advocates appalled that Obama isn't tougher on Egypt's generals. Meanwhile, U.S. allies in Europe complain that America isn't showing leadership, and a senior Arab government official tells TIME that friendly states in the region don't feel they can count on the U.S. "There's no perception that we're engaged in issues in the Middle East right now," says Christopher Hill, a veteran diplomat who served as Obama's ambassador to Iraq.

Obama's defenders say he has done the best with a poisoned inheritance--from anti-Americanism abroad to tight budgets and rising isolationism at home. And his White House predecessors have often heard cries from overseas that the U.S.'s will to power was faltering. But it's also true that the public is tired of paying in blood and treasure to solve faraway problems that often look unsolvable. "At the end of the day, the U.S. cannot impose its will on every problem in the world," says Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The blunt instrument of military power may be especially useless when it comes to untangling the Arab Spring's social upheavals. "Frankly, the U.S. is not good at resolving another country's political implosion," says Mieke Eoyang, a national-security analyst at Third Way, a Washington think tank. "It may be that the U.S. just doesn't have the tools."

Syria would certainly require high-precision equipment. The country of 22 million, bordered by the Mediterranean to the west and Iraq to the east, has been a dictatorship since 1949. It has also been a constant thorn in the U.S.'s side, aligning with Iran's ruling mullahs and sponsoring the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah. During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Assad left his border open to Islamist fighters crossing into Iraq to kill American soldiers. Even so, Assad said in 2009 he "would like to have a dialogue" with the U.S., and American diplomats including Kerry, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, paid several visits to Damascus before the uprising began there. But Assad could never quite be coaxed into real cooperation.

The Assad family comes from Syria's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Their rule over a country that is roughly three-quarters Sunni has always required repression of a degree reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But in March 2011, Syrian society fractured and Assad's rule was openly challenged in the streets for the first time by what would become a Sunni-dominated rebellion.

Syria matters a lot to its neighbors. The civil war has already produced nearly 2 million refugees, an exodus that threatens to destabilize Jordan and Turkey, and has heightened Shi'ite-Sunni tensions in Lebanon and Iraq, inflaming a sectarian conflict that could stretch from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. For months, Assad's allies in Iran and Lebanon have been sending fighters to support his regime. That's one reason the stakes in Syria are so high: it has become a proxy war, fueled by cash and arms, between Iran and its Sunni rivals like Saudi Arabia. There is the obvious moral imperative with regard to a conflict in which more than 100,000 people have been killed. And there is the matter of Israel's security when a chemical-armed state is collapsing.

Obama doesn't deny any of this. "We've got serious interests there," he told PBS's Charlie Rose in June. "And not only humanitarian interests. We can't have the situation of ongoing chaos in a major country that borders a country like Jordan, which in turn borders Israel. And we have a legitimate need to be engaged and to be involved." What he disputes is that he can shape the outcome in Syria through military intervention, either with direct action or by arming rebels who may have radical Islamist ties.

So as they planned their response to the Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack, Obama's aides focused on calibrating a response that would send a message without causing wider chaos. Too much force could alter the strategic balance of the conflict, possibly empowering Islamist rebels--some of whom are allied with al-Qaeda--whom the White House considers more dangerous than Assad himself. Use too little force, however, and you look feckless. Warns Scowcroft: "Nothing would be worse than to make a gesture which changed nothing and made us look even more impotent."

A Message to Tehran
On Dec. 10, 2009, Obama flew to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, a premature honor that was not entirely welcomed by the White House. By then Obama had already sent more troops to Afghanistan, escalated drone strikes against al-Qaeda terrorists and seen his hand of friendship rejected by Tehran. It was growing clear that the world might not transform after all. So even as Obama celebrated the cause of world peace that day, he acknowledged that a dangerous world sometimes calls for war, usually led by American arms. "Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms," he said.

Obama is applying that principle now in Syria. Whatever comes of Obama's confrontation with Assad, an even more dangerous confrontation lies in wait--the one with Iran. If another round of negotiations with Tehran should fail, Obama may soon be obliged to make good on his vow to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. "I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests," Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March 2012.

But to his critics, Obama does hesitate, and trouble follows as a result. With more than three years left in his presidency, he has the opportunity to reverse that impression. Success in Syria and then Iran could vindicate him, and failure could be crushing. "The risk is that, if things in the Middle East continue to spiral, that will become his legacy," says Brian Katulis, a former Obama campaign adviser now with the Center for American Progress.

Some Democratic Presidents have been crippled by foreign policy: Carter by Iran, Lyndon Johnson by Vietnam. But there is another model. Clinton doused the fires in the Balkans and demonstrated the nobility of American intervention. Obama has time to find a path through the current chaos to a successful legacy abroad.

As he charts his course, he might consider a thought from an unlikely source. In a 2009 British newspaper interview that struck a moderate tone, Assad said he hoped Obama would take an active role in the Middle East peace process because only Washington could broker a lasting solution. He said, "There is no substitute for the United States."

≪ 浮かない戦士 ≫











< ダマスカスへの道 >




カダフィ軍がベンガジ市外に集結し、無辜の市民を虐殺すると脅迫し、フランスや英国からの圧力が強くなった時、やっとオバマは介入に踏みきった。共和党はこの態度を「後衛に隠れた指揮」だと考えた。この言葉(leading from behind)は、ジョージ・ブッシュのカウボーイ張りの先制攻撃戦術との対照を強調するためにオバマ陣営によって使われたのだが、批評家は真の指導性の放棄だとなじった。








< 力の限界 >









< シリアへの伝言 >





Monday, Sep. 09, 2013
Theater of the Absurd
By Hannah Beech
China’s Bo Xilai show trial is not so much about corruption as it is about settling political scores.

It was quite the Chinese opera. The recently concluded trial of fallen princeling-politician Bo Xilai for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power provided sex and scandal, allegations of an ill-gotten French villa and a hunk of rare African beast that the Bo family supposedly feasted on for a month. Via the hyperactive online feed of the Jinan Intermediate People's Court, where Bo was being tried, an eager Chinese public got rare access to edited court proceedings.

The image fashioned by China's government propagandists was of a model of courtroom transparency in which the 64-year-old former Politburo member was allowed to cross-examine witnesses and make an expansive closing statement asserting his innocence. None of this supposed legal orthodoxy, though, could take away from the salacious details that drew nearly 600,000 microblog followers to the five-day trial. Even Bo himself commented on the improbabilities of his legal drama: "The lowest type of television soap opera could not possess this kind of plot."

That was a typical rhetorical flourish from an atypical Chinese leader who reveled in populist stagecraft even as his communist brethren withdrew behind the bamboo curtain. Yet Bo's remark also contained one of the keenest insights of the entire judicial affair. State news agency Xinhua said Bo's trial — not to mention the relative openness surrounding it in a nation more used to closed-door judicial farces — showed how serious the ruling Communist Party, now led by Xi Jinping, is about tackling official graft. But Bo's comeuppance was not about a turning point in China's long march to a society governed by rule of law. Nor was it a milestone victory in Xi's signature antigraft campaign. Instead, this was pure political theater, courtesy of party leaders seemingly determined to discipline China's most iconoclastic politician.

The saga of Bo, the son of a revolutionary who was purged last year while serving as party boss of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, makes even reality TV look unreal. Here are a couple of the more unlikely plot points. Last summer, while Bo sat in detention at an undisclosed location, his wife Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering a British business consultant with cyanide. Bo's deputy, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate in southwestern China before being jailed for defection, among other offenses. During his trial, Bo implied that romantic flickers between Wang and Gu went toward explaining the pair's criminality and helped absolve him of their misdeeds. Part of the trial was devoted to ascertaining whether an incensed Bo had once punched Wang — or had merely slapped him.

Either way, Bo was a Technicolor character in a nation of colorless leaders. That individualism, along with his arrogance in office and apparent penchant for locking up foes, almost certainly contributed to his demise. Yet the prosecution addressed none of the more serious allegations of Bo's abuse of power, including the possibility that his criminality extended to his quest to enter the top ranks of the party leadership. There's little doubt, even within China's censored online public space, that the likely guilty verdict Bo will soon face has as much to do with a clash with other Chinese politicians as with a cleanup of the graft that blights the party. "In China, those who become targets of corruption investigations are usually determined by senior leaders," wrote Chinese journalist Liu Yanwei in an online commentary. "How can the masses trust this kind of anticorruption campaign?"

Bo's trial is a political triumph for the party, not a judicial one for the nation. The authorities have locked up a number of bloggers, social-media activists and journalists in recent weeks, the latest detentions in a summer of stifled dissent. Writing about Liu Hu, an investigative reporter picked up by police on questionable charges on Aug. 23 after airing allegations about official corruption on his personal microblog, He Bing, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, wrote online: "Liu's case is much more important than Bo's case. If Liu was accused of [the trumped-up] charges of 'picking quarrels and provoking social disturbances,' it means we have no freedom of speech." Other independent voices silenced in recent days have been blamed for supposed crimes such as fabricating rumors and soliciting prostitutes. Unlike Bo, these individuals may never get a chance to even begin defending themselves in court.

< 法廷に見る不条理劇 >






簿の裁判は党の政治的勝利であって、国家のための司法の勝利ではない。国家権力はここ数週間、ブロッガー、ソーシャルネットワーク活動家そしてジャーナリストを大量に逮捕し、最近の身柄拘束は夏にあった反対意見を封殺するためのものだった。自分のミニブログで役人の汚職について書いた後、不明朗な罪状で8月23日に警官に連行された調査ジャーナリストLie Huについて書いた中国政法大学法学部教授He Bingはネットに書き込んだ。「劉の裁判は簿の裁判よりもずっと大事です。もし劉が『ありもしないことを書いて社会を混乱させた』という冤罪で起訴されたりしたら、言論の自由はなくなります」今は沈黙を余儀なくされているその他の独立系メディアは、捏造した噂を流したとか、売春婦の客引きをしたことが犯罪にあたるとして槍玉に挙げられてきた。簿裁判と違って、彼らのような私人には、法廷で弁明する機会さえ与えられないだろう。

inserted by FC2 system