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June 25, 2009
Two pieces of good news on defense

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee reinstated funding for the F-22, over the objections of the Pentagon and the White House. But it looks like the Administration is holding firm on its commitment to use the millions for the F-22 in more productive ways.

From the official release:

F-22 Advance Procurement: The Administration strongly objects to the provisions in the bill authorizing $369 million in advanced procurement funds for F-22s in FY 2011. The collective judgment of the Service Chiefs and Secretaries of the military departments suggests that a final program of record of 187 F-22s is sufficient to meet operational requirements. If the final bill presented to the President contains this provision, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.

For more info, see this goofy video about Congress’s F-22 love affair.

Also, after resolving to kick the U.S. out last February, Kyrgyzstan has reconsidered and announced that it will allow America to continue to use the Manas air base critical to the war in Afghanistan. All of those who were worried that our expulsion showed the weakness of the U.S. in the face of Russian aggression and influence can calm down again.

Apparently, the personal letter from President Obama was influential, but I am sure the extra $43 million a year didn’t hurt; Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev knows a point of leverage when he sees one. Let’s see what happens to the reported request from Kyrgyzstan that Washington refrain from criticizing the handling of next month’s elections too much…

- Nina Hachigian

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June 23, 2009
FT on Iran

Related to my Iran post below is a good piece on the U.S. politics of Iran in the Financial Times.

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June 22, 2009
Iran v. North Korea, on and off the field

Iran and North Korea squared off on the soccer field.

Iran and North Korea played a World Cup soccer match a few weeks ago. Here they were, two of the governments most hostile to the United States, squaring off!

While I’ve often thought about how similar Washington’s quandaries over North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs are (for one, the critical role of China in both), I have, over the past ten days, been struck about how the regimes are also so different. For all of its brutality, the Iranian government has not insulated the country completely from outside information. There is massive censorship, but citizens do have access to satellite TV and to the Internet. Tehran has made the same calculation as Beijing — that modern technology is necessary for economic growth, and that it can be controlled.

Not so in North Korea. The massive protests in Tehran are unimaginable at this stage in the DPRK, which is going through its own leadership succession. North Koreans, but for the government elite, have no access at all to the Internet — only a state-run Intranet with no foreign Web sites. There is no other free media whatsoever, and those caught listening to foreign broadcasts are severely punished. The regime’s degree of control over its population is extreme.

In Iran, the religious leadership sits above the president, who is theoretically elected by the people. In North Korea, the Dear Leader is himself divine. Instead of an election, even a sham election, Kim Jung Il has designated his youngest son to succeed him. Most North Koreans don’t know that other countries select their leaders in any other way — time stopped for them in the 1950s.

These differences between the two regimes are significant because mature democracies take a long time to evolve. Voting for one’s leaders, even if the results are tossed, gives citizens a taste of what real democracy is like, and they won’t be starting from complete scratch, like the North Koreans, when their elections eventually are free. And a taste of freedom can itself lead to demands for more.

North Korea won the soccer match. And they are winning the game of subjugating their people. But that game won’t last forever.

- Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user michaelgoodin under a Creative Commons license.

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

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June 19, 2009
Who are you calling not serious?!

U.S. funding for the IMF has become a heated issue. Photo: IMF

Chris Bowers took major exception to an article I recently wrote supporting U.S. funding for the IMF. I was motivated to write the article by the neocon rants equating money for the IMF to money down the drain — despite the fact that the IMF was bailing out countries that the U.S. would certainly not let fail, at a fraction of the cost of us trying to do it alone. As I wrote, that is an argument that I don’t consider very serious.

But some progressives in Congress also wanted to tie the IMF funding to specific changes in how the IMF conducts its business, with an eye toward more sensitivity to poor countries and greater transparency. I am very sympathetic to these goals, and this argument IS serious.

I think we should give the new Administration a chance to engage, however. It is sometimes hard to remember, but we are coming off of eight years in which the U.S. disparaged and belittled multilateral organizations and often ignored them. The Administration now, wisely, wants to reengage. From the IMF, the U.S. wants not only to continue to save countries from bankruptcy, but also to become a forum for examining China’s undervalued currency. In pursuing a broader agenda, the administration can and has pushed for reforms, with some success, and we should give that approach some time to work. It shows more respect for a multilateral process that involves many countries than does categorical U.S. demands. Moreover, if we attach hefty conditions, other countries might too, and that will complicate the whole process greatly.

Second, we are still in the throes of a once-in-a-century economic crisis. The IMF has already relaxed some of its conditions to ensure that it can act quickly and not cause additional social harm. But I fear that some of the new requirements that the members of congress want, like requiring Parliamentary approval for loan packages, could slow the process down too much at this juncture, and, in the end, cause more harm.

Finally, the U.S. has been pushing hard for underdeveloped countries to get more of a say in IMF decisions. That pressure has had resulted in a marginal increase in voice for the underrepresented, with the promise of more to come. The answer to the problem of badly-designed loan packages for poor countries is for poor countries themselves to have a greater hand in decision-making.

- Nina Hachigian

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress.

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June 19, 2009
Iran dust-up

President Obama’s response to the turmoil in Iran has thus far been measured.

I’m annoyed to feel compelled to write about this, but there have been a number of attacks on Obama’s policy toward Iran lately, which, to my mind, makes a lot of sense and is a big improvement over what came before. President Obama is being very careful not to say anything that President Ahmadinejad can use to show that America is meddling in Iran’s affairs — a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

ThinkProgress notes that Henry Kissinger, the “smartest guy in the world” according to John McCain, and a McCain supporter, said yesterday of the Iran situation that Obama has “handled this well.”

In contrast, McCain himself said on CNN yesterday: “I do not believe that the president is taking the leadership that is incumbent upon an American president, which we have throughout modern history, and that is to advocate for human rights and freedom, and free elections are one of those fundamentals.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter much what McCain says now. But I shudder to think what the man who advocated the pleasant-sounding but totally unworkable “League of Democracies” would be doing now if he were the president.

In support of Obama’s approach, NSN had this list of quotes from various experts last week:

  • Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns: “President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see aggressive statements, a series of statements, from the United States which try to put the US at the center of this.” [Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns, 6/16/09]
  • National Iranian American Council President and Iran Expert Trita Parsi: “I think it’s quite reckless to turn this into a political football here in the United States. In reality, this can have severe repercussions on the streets of Tehran, if the protests are being casted as being orchestrated from the United States.” [Trita Parsi, 6/16/09]
  • Iran Expert and Former NSC Official Gary Sick: “Anything we do or say is going to be interpreted in Iran as interference in their domestic affairs and it will tarnish anyone who is in anyway seen as being supported by the United States.” [Gary Sick, 6/15/09]
  • Carnegie Endowment Iran Expert Karim Sadjadpour: “[W]e don’t want to denounce these elections and insert ourselves into that political process which is playing out in Tehran. Historically, we have unwittingly hurt those whom we’ve tried to help in the past.” [Carnegie Endowment Iran Expert Karim Sadjadpour, 6/15/09]
  • Spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran Hadi Ghaemi: “It is better for the U.S. not to comment and make itself part of the equation… By supporting one faction versus another, the U.S. would not be helpful at all.” [Spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran Hadi Ghaemi, 6/15/09]
  • Iranian Expatriate via Andrew Sullivan: “I’m an Iranian living in Canada. A few hours ago I talked to my brother who is a student at Sharif University, he was at the big rally yesterday and they were only feet away from Karoubi when they marched from the university entrance to Azadi square. He asked what had Obama had said and I started reading the transcript. When I got to ‘the United States can be a handy political football, or discussions with the United States [can be]’ my brother sighed and said thank God this guy gets it.” [Iranian expatriate reported by Andrew Sullivan, 6/16/09]

Enough said.

- Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Shahram Sharif under a Creative Commons license.

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

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June 18, 2009
House made of BRICs

Leaders from Brazil, Russia, China and India at the first BRIC summit.

This week, Brazil, Russia, India and China — dubbed the BRIC nations — held their first leaders’ summit in St. Petersburg. The web of bilateral connections among these four emerging powers is intense, with presidential summits a routine occurence. This quadrilateral format was the first for heads of state, however.

Perhaps predictably for a group that has such divergent interests, not much concrete came of the first BRIC meeting. Nevertheless, surely all the leaders – especially Russia — enjoyed the symbolism of the moment.

It doesn’t particularly matter, but I can’t help but think that the motivation for this meeting must have originated during the Bush Administration, which all but dared these countries to unite to oppose American interests. As it happens, they made some vague calls for a monetary system diversified away from the dollar, but that was about it.

These pivotal powers are at a privileged point in their evolution — they are not wealthy or influential enough for the world’s citizens to expect them to solve serious problems. And yet they are increasingly powerful and can increasingly demand, and deserve, a greater voice in global decision-making.

But this time will pass and, because they are emerging or re-emerging in an era when technology has made this planet very small, their summits will soon be marked by protestors demanding all variety of actions and commentators expressing disappointment that nothing got done, again. They would do well to take bold responsibility for the common good before that time comes. For starters, let’s see if China and India agree to targets for emissions reductions later this year in Copenhagen…

- Nina Hachigian

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June 15, 2009
Bailing out the bailer-outer

Members of the International Monetary Fund meet with officials in the Maldives.

The battle over America’s pledge of new funds to the International Monetary Fund is shaping up and will play out in Congress this week during the negotiations over the war supplemental. Recall that the G-20 nations agreed in April to boost IMF lending capacity by $500 billion.

This extra capital is necessary because, in an effort to stem the economic crisis, the IMF bailed out a number of countries such as Pakistan and Iceland that may have otherwise gone belly up. Now the IMF needs additional funds that it can loan to other countries on the brink.

Opposition is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. There is the usual neo-con fearmongering that this money is a “giveaway”—more on why this is silly below.

There are also progressives who argue, with reason, that the IMF should be less strict in its demands from poor countries because past IMF conditions on loans to developing economies often caused great pain and were ultimately unproductive. All sides are demanding greater transparency in the IMF’s lending practices and governance.

Much room remains for improvement at the IMF, but we need to ante up. Congress should deliver the funds we’ve pledged, while also keeping up the pressure for reform. Here are five reasons why:

1. The IMF extends our dollars. Our share of the additional $500 billion pledged—$108 billion—is less than 22 percent of the total. That means that for every one dollar we contribute, other countries are putting in about $3.50. Japan already signed an agreement with the IMF to provide its promised $100 billion, and their economy is at least as bad as ours, and much smaller. The amount we owe is significantly less than what we needed to bailout one U.S. company (AIG), and these are countries at stake.

2. We are going to pay one way or the other. Let’s be serious. We aren’t going to let Pakistan’s economy collapse, or for that matter Hungary’s, Romania’s, or Guatemala’s. The potential national security consequences of any of those countries failing are too dire, not to mention the ultimately higher economic costs to America. Better the IMF prop them up — as they have — than us shoulder an even higher burden in funds and hassle.

3. This is a chance to show leadership again. American economic leadership has taken a serious beating lately. The world blames us for this crisis. This is a chance to do the right thing when countries are in need and gain back some credibility as an economic leader. Let’s not be the last country to pay what we pledged.

4. China is increasing its influence at the IMF. That’s largely good, because it comes with an increased contribution from them, and the IMF is developing into a forum to talk about their undervalued currency. But America will want to maintain significant influence at the IMF, too. We can’t have leverage if we don’t pay up. China has committed $50 billion of the $500 billion total.

5. The IMF will pay us back. These are bonds we are buying. And they’ve got gold to back them up.

- Nina Hachigian

This post originally appeared at The Center for American Progress.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Presidency Maldives under a Creative Commons license.

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June 11, 2009
Pandemic

Its official — the world is experiencing a pandemic for the first time since 1968, the World Health Organization declared today.

The USG talking points seem to be “reassure, reassure, reassure.”  Their take is basically right, for now — though it has spread rapidly, H1N1 is not a particularly lethal flu.

But the virus is affecting many young people who are otherwise healthy. More troubling is that its future course is completely unpredictable. With Tamiflu-resistant influenza circulating — as well as the H5N1 avian flu pathogen out there, which IS incredibly deadly — and the potential for recombinations, I worry. Practice the elbow cough and teach it to your kids. Wash your hands for a really long time. And stockpile food.

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June 10, 2009
Retired military officers urge support of Obama, Gates defense budget

Thirteen former Generals and Admirals — representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force — today asked Congress to support the 2010 Defense budget that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama developed. The retired officers “urge members of Congress to support the Obama administration’s efforts to move in a new strategic direction that will better ensure the safety and security of this country.” I couldn’t agree more, as I wrote in this piece.

Dear Member of Congress:

As former commanders in the United States military, each one of us deeply understands what our troops need to defend and protect America’s national security.  The most important imperative is to both ensure that these men and women have the proper equipment they need to protect themselves from harm as well as defend against and defeat our enemies. But it is clear that over the past several decades, the nature of those enemies has changed. The threats against America have undergone a monumental shift, as dangers emanating from traditional Cold War adversaries have given way to challenges from terrorism and other transnational entities. While we must always remain vigilant against the many large-scale conventional challenges that still persist to this day, we must also ensure our military strategy reflects the realities of 21st century. And it is essential our defense budget matches this new reality.

That is why we stand in support of the new direction put forth in the Obama administration’s defense budget.  The budget laid out by Secretary Gates will help bring the military into the 21st century and move us beyond the legacy of the Cold War. We commend the decisions by the Secretary to cut unnecessary and wasteful programs and to emphasize systems that will not only help the United States win the wars it is in but will better prepare it for the wars of the future.

To this end, we urge members of Congress to support the Obama administration’s efforts to move in a new strategic direction that will better ensure the safety and security of this country.  For too long our military’s budget priorities have been beset by an out of date mentality, creating a chasm between what the needs of our military actually were and what Congress actually funded. This budget is an essential course correction, and will bring our military hardware up to date. It will go a long way in ensuring that the men and women who fight on the front lines have the essential training and tools to successfully execute the sworn oath they took to defend and protect this nation.

Sincerely,

Brigadier General John Adams USA (Retired)

Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett USNR (Retired)

Lieutenant General John Castellaw USMC (Retired)

Brigadier General Tom Daniels USAF (Retired)

Major General Paul D. Eaton USA (Retired)

Lieutenant General Al Edmonds USAF (Retired)

Lieutenant General Robert Gard, Jr. USA (Retired)

Brigadier General John Johns USA (Retired)

Lieutenant General Donald L. Kerrick USA (Retired)

Brigadier General Samuel L. Kindred USA (Retired)

Rear Admiral Rosanne “Rose” LeVitre USN (Retired)

Brigadier General Earl Simms USA (Retired)

Brigadier General John M. Watkins USA (Retired)

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June 9, 2009
One more reason to get a Mac

It’s a game of cat and mouse between China and its Internet users.

In another chapter of the story about how well Beijing is managing to manage Internet use in China, regulations issued yesterday require computers sold there to come with a program that blocks access to porn sites (no version is available for Linux or Macs so far). Though it’s targeted at porn — and, as a mother, I can imagine wanting this software myself one day — the concern is that “Green Dam” will be used for other sites also and may serve as a Trojan Horse for the authorities. At the moment, I have it on good authority that computers don’t have to come installed with this program. It can be shipped on a CD and the user can easily toss the CD into the circular file.

If Green Dam ends up being used for political sites, I have confidence that any one intrepid netizen will still be able to figure out how to circumvent it and the myriad other blocks the authorities put between him and information about Tibet, Taiwan and other “sensitive” issues, if he really wants to. The thing is, most are not so determined, and a highly complex and layered system of censorship ensures that no casual user will ever bump into such information by accident. Still, in this ongoing game of cat and mouse, I will always bet on the mice.

- Nina Hachigian

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Nina Hachigian is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the co-author of "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise." She has worked on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House and been a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. She specializes in U.S.-China relations and great power relationships, multilateral institutions and U.S. foreign policy.

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