June 29, 2007

Quotes

Frank Lowry on America

"I think very highly of the American people - very very highly. America is a great country. They do a lot for the world, which is either unnoticed or not appreciated"...

Frank Lowy is a Jewish Australian businessman. He co founded the
Westfield Group making him the largest owner of shopping
centres in the world.

June 27, 2007

Tony Blair peace broker

The United States was pushing for Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair to serve as a special envoy to the Middle East. Now that the proposal has materialised, Tony Blair will work to represent the interests of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia (the so-called diplomatic Quartet) in the region.

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June 26, 2007

Foundations of Power (i)

This blog entry forms what shall be the first of an evolving series that succinctly seeks to identify key elements of U.S. pre-eminence today.

Background

Since the development of the modern state system, America has established a clear command in the principal dimensions of power and this has allowed it to exercise immense influence, strength, capacity, and prerogative in the international arena which has helped to create a better world. Its position however does not constitute one of global hegemony hence it does not have absolute authority. Primarily I refer to terms of power within international relations that support its Government to promote its individual brand of liberal-capitalist order and integrate other nations into its sphere or, as Richard Haas, President of the Council of Foreign Relations put it, “into arrangements that will sustain a world consistent with (our) interest”. What is more through its foreign policy objectives the process seeks to preserve and increase U.S. power and authority as well as to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, further liberalize the global economy and promote democracy and human rights, once again consistent with U.S. values.

America has at its disposal a diversity of tools and means to consolidate and enhance its present position of primacy. This first part of the series will identify some of the international institutions the United States makes use of to exact its preferences and interests. In future entries, I will look at other foundations of power including economic dominance, military strength, ideological and cultural impact, and geopolitical assets.

Institutional influence

It is customary for nation states to make use of institutions for the coordination and management of particular international and domestic activities. These bodies provide constructive mechanisms for managing global challenges requiring collective or multilateral actions. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of institutional bodies in the world today however, for the purposes of this blog entry, and to exemplify a line of reasoning, I refer to some of the major global organizations together with the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Trade Organisation (WTO), The United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Collectively these institutions grant a plethora of vital functions and services together with, but not limited to, the facilitation and nurturing of international laws and security, economic development, financial assistance, social progress, monetary cooperation, exchange security, employment growth, international trade relations, political stability and state security.

No single state exercises complete control over these organizations and in any event, the rules and regulations governing them would prevent this from happening. Nevertheless, the United States plays a pivotal role within them. For example, U.S. contributions and assistance to the IMF warrant it voting rights in executive ranks and boards accordingly this allows the luxury of indirect but primary influence in policy making and because it is much the same with the World Bank, it implies more than a casual sensitivity to the wishes and needs of Washington.

The United States is also one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; a privilege that grants it veto rights over all matters, however because of its military strength it can also ignore the Council when in its interests to do so, as in Kosovo in 1999. It is also noteworthy that the U.S. contribution to the U.N’s annual budget is over twenty (20) percent.

The U.S. is also a key player within NATO with the Supreme Allied Commander’s position being held by an officer of the United States; thus the military alliance in Europe is often directed by American initiative.

Power clearly has benefits for Washington but as is often overlooked it also provides fundamental reward in terms of world stability and growth, furthermore by taking into account the critical functions of the aforementioned institutions, the U.S. has a resilient capacity to shape regional powers and endow the globe with advances in human rights issues and democracy.

As former President Bill Clinton once said, the U.S. is a “beacon of hope to peoples around the world”.

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June 21, 2007

Respect where it's due

Are you concerned about the rhetoric presented by Presidential hopefuls on all sides of politics?

Are you dissatisfied with congressional performance of late?

Are you sick of the seemingly entrenched negativity circulating within media and on-line circles about the United States?

America deserves greater respect, recognition, and gratitude than it is presently in receipt of. The nation is not veritably in decline, it is purely having a challenging moment in its long and celebrated history, one which, with balanced, thoughtful, and courageous scrutiny can, and will be solved.

Let us commence educating ourselves on potential ways forward without the customary and incessant pessimism so often presented.

Let us begin therefore, with this excellent and thought provoking article by Fareed Zakaria offering fresh insight and considerations in terms of restoring America’s place and confidence in the world.

Zakaria: How to Restore America's Place in the World
What the world needs is an open, confident America.

By Fareed Zakaria
Newsweek
June 11, 2007 issue - In the fall of 1982, I arrived in the United States as an 18-year-old student from India. The country was in rough shape. That December unemployment hit 10.8 percent, higher than at any point since World War II. Interest rates hovered around 15 percent. Abroad, the United States was still reeling from Vietnam and Watergate. The Soviet Union was on a roll, expanding its influence from Afghanistan to Angola to Central America. That June, Israel invaded Lebanon, making a tense situation in the Middle East even more volatile.

Continue reading by clicking here

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June 17, 2007

Historical notes (i)

To most, America assumed the role of world power after the Second World War however, a promulgation by President Theodore Roosevelt (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919), many years earlier, became one of the first steps toward establishing the United States, as a World Power.

Becoming known as the "Roosevelt Corollary", (to the Monroe Doctrine), it had the effect of making America a quasi international police force in the Western Hemisphere as early as the beginning of the last century.

At the time, Roosevelt's Annual message to Congress declared:

All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.

The year was 1904!

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June 16, 2007

Gates in Baghdad


Image taken on June 15 showing empty
streets in Iraqs Green Zone following a
curfew a day after the bombing of a
revered Shiite shrine in Samarra.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made an unannounced visit to Baghdad to assess a U.S. troop build-up and press Iraq's government to move faster in passing laws that Washington views as critical to reconciling Iraqis.

In a statement that clearly indicates that Washington is disappointed with Iraqi progress, Gates said to reporters, "Frankly, we're disappointed with the progress so far, and hope that this most recent bombing by Al-Qaeda won't further disrupt or delay the process".

The U.S. military said on Friday it had completed its troop build-up to 160,000 soldiers. Nearly 30,000 extra troops have been sent to Iraq, mainly to secure Baghdad and give the Shi'ite-led government time to reach a political accommodation with minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

In its latest report on Iraq published this week, the Pentagon said it was too soon to assess the military crackdown. While violence was down in Baghdad, the overall level was unchanged in Iraq because militants had simply moved their bases outside the capital, it said.

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June 15, 2007

Chinese concerns about Security Alliance

The disquiet stems from what is perceived to be a recent change in Australian policy in accordance with what they observe, as a pattern in which both Japan and the U.S. are developing an alliance of democracies in Asia. Formal diplomatic protests have been issued due to the fear that these countries and including India were in effect, forming a security alliance.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and his representative, Jennifer Rawson have publicly stated that there is no threat to China however the issuing of diplomatic notes (by China) is an signal of how serious it views the changing strategic architecture in the region.

The proposal of quadrilateral alignment was initially put forward by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier in the year, and sanctioned by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney during a visit to Australia in February.

Already, some news media in Australia have expressed concern about any proposed security arrangements with the United States and Japan.

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June 14, 2007

Did you know?

In 1950 the United States, fearing communist incursions in South East Asia began supplying military assistance including equipment, in earnest to the French. In August of the same year the first detachment of U.S. military advisers were dispatched and by the early 1950's America was funding close to 80 percent of France's war effort in Vietnam.

This represented the beginning of enduring and entrenched U.S. involvement in Nam. By 1965 there was over 75,00o Americans fighting there. In 1966, the number leaped to 375,000 and by 1968 to half a million!

Lest we forget.

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June 11, 2007

Russia: It's about power


"Pride sullies the noblest character."
Claudianus

It appears as though Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the planned U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe as an excuse to flex some muscle. Little to do with strategic objectives or the systems to which he refers; I would venture to suggest that Putin is attempting to gain lost pride.

Now that Russia is enjoying a steady stream of petro-gas dollars the confidence to confront is returning. Like a bear returning from a long sleep after nearly two long decades; no doubt we can expect more stiff rhetoric after the long hibernation. He even had the nerve to suggest to Tony Blair that the West is "worried and fearful" of Russian foreign policy.

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June 10, 2007

NASA STS-117

Image Credit: NASA

Mission STS-117
finally launched from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on June 8th, marking the 21st U.S. flight to the International Space Station and the 118th space shuttle flight. It also represents the 250th orbital human spaceflight.

Click here
to see launch image.

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June 7, 2007

Of continuity and predictable parameters of policy


Is anyone really entertaining the thought that we can expect fundamental and sweeping changes to U.S. Foreign Policy post January 20, 2009?

It was a typical gathering of friends following a rather busy week. Good food and wine (a rich bodied South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon) dominated a discussion early on that is, until we were all too full to even think about let alone talk of cuisines and/or fitting reds. As we usually did, the conversation steered toward general current affairs issues including climate change, The Palestinian conflict, and world markets before finally being bogged down on Iraq question and American foreign policies. The comment was made that sometime soon - suggestive of a Republican loss following the next U.S. election – there will blanket changes. Blanket? I think to myself, now there's some mistaken conjecture ...

I could not help but argue that, apart from the fact that we cannot yet determine who may win in 2008, we should not expect any radical changes to the U.S. position in relation to Iraq or foreign policy regardless of which political party wins.

Now I feel compelled to add that this blog does not favour any specific political forces nor do I claim sufficient knowledge about America’s internal domestic issues to adjudicate accurately at any rate. Ultimately, nations and commentators should refrain from attempting to read into U.S. policy particularly so, in relation to their domestic debate about Iraq as a way of pre-empting there own policies. In the absence of any specific scholarly qualifications however, I firmly believe that the American population would not endorse a precipitous withdrawal that may lead to chaos in Iraq. Even if my acquaintances were correct about a changes in government, there will not be any radical differences to U.S. policy apart from changes to foreign policy and military personnel who may be predisposed to being traditionalists (as opposed to transformationalists), pragmatists (as opposed to neocons) and internationalists (as opposed to unilateralists). Incidentally, the latter may occur in spite of which political forces seize power.

Once again, even with the inclusion of “national security realists”, can we really expect fundamental change? NO! If anything, for reasons of continuity within the U.S. political system and administrations. Has it occurred to anyone that, in terms of foreign policy staff, just about every administration since the seventies has contributed to every succeeding administration and including that of the current one under George W. Bush?

Consider that Gerald Ford’s chief of staff was Donald Rumsfeld who in turn hired Dick Cheney to be his assistant. Ford’s Director of Central Intelligence was George Bush Senior and, as part of the team, there was Brent Scowcroft who would one day become Condoleezza Rice’s mentor. Then there was a certain Stephen Hadley who also worked for Scowcroft and interestingly, Hadley would eventually succeed Condoleezza Rice as national security advisor. Ronald Reagan presidency elevated the career of a rising military talent in Colin Powell who would eventually become the 65th U.S. Secretary of State under George W. Bush. Now turning back to George Bush senior we note a team that included names as Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Powell, Rice, and Richard Haass. It is also interesting to note that Scowcroft and Hadley take us back even further to the days of Henry Kissinger, as did a certain Anthony Lake, who would one day be national security advisor to Bill Clinton. Finally, by mentioning Kissinger we evoke the memory of Richard Nixon who appointed him as both national security advisor and secretary of state.

Is all this continuity of personnel a good or bad thing? There are probably two competing schools of thought, on one hand they are highly seasoned and talented individuals which is to the benefit of the U.S. and the world; would we really want the running of America to be left to untried inexperienced personnel? However, it does almost guarantee a sense of permanence and broad continuity of rhetoric, policy, and practice and this my friends, dispels any notion of fundamental change following a change of administration.

What do you think?

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June 6, 2007

America imperfect

"The end does not justify the means. No one’s rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others"

This is the first post in which I am critical of U.S. Policy. It reflects some disquiet on my part after reading about George W. Bush lecturing Putin about derailing democracy.

It is my hope that readers of this post will scrutinize this censure in a constructive context.

As noted in my last post, America’s popularity abroad has fallen sharply of late. A common thread found in polling concerns perceived double standards about the U.S. with many noting a disparity between stated and written ideals and actual practice referring to the current administrations tampering with the nation’s fundamental civil liberties post 9/11.

The United States has forever and a day, championed its democratic values and in particular, its citizens freedoms from government intervention. Through its constitution (being the supreme law of the land) and including the bill of rights contained herein, U.S. citizens are guaranteed civil liberties (including freedom of speech, of association, of assembly, due process, fair trial, to bear arms and to privacy) that constitute a set of democratic rights that peoples of many lands have looked too with envy.

Post 9/11 the Bush administration has scoured U.S. credibility by such normally foreign acts as spying on its own, removing rights to fair trial, and making use of secret courts, not to mention the condoning of activities such as torture. In the longer term, I can see no tangible benefits to be gained by eroding Americas much esteemed and heralded democratic liberties. America must not do away with elements of its constitution due to a relatively small number of terrorists. It is somewhat simplistic to only lay the blame on George W. Bush; something else is going on here, something much more serious which seems to be permeating most levels of the public domain in America. We often here about check and balances, there is a Congress, an independent judiciary, free speech and free press and yet all these mechanisms are failing the citizens of the nation. Balanced and intelligent reason it seems has all but disappeared within communal America.

Liberalism and democracy must prosper for it is wrong to view civil rights and long established laws pertaining to such, as impediments to national security.

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June 3, 2007

U.S. Unpopular abroad

In a survey of foreigners in 25 countries, only 29 percent thought the United States had a positive influence in the world -- a decline from 36 percent with the same view in 2006 and 40 percent in 2005.
Poll analysts called it a “horrible slide,” and pointed to the Iraq war and global warming as two top issues where America’s influence is seen as negative.
A common theme abroad is “hypocrisy” in U.S. policy, a gap between our stated ideals and our practices.
Never before has America needed more friends abroad.

For all its diversified exports the United states remains so very misunderstood...

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Robert Gates on China

From the same podium that Rumsfeld spoke two years ago in Singapore, Robert Gates statements have turned down the heat between the superpowers over a previous dispute over Beijings military build up.

Gates called for a more detailed military dialogue with China to avoid future miscalculations, while a top Chinese general said Beijing was prepared to open a "hotline" with Washington, with Gates adding' " I think it is an important start ... "There has clearly been greater transparency on the part of the Chinese."

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