Obama Should Offer More than McCain-Lite Strategy On Russia-Georgia and Other High Stakes Global Conflicts


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Nader Mousavizadeh, former special assistant to and speechwriter for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Goldman Sachs executive, just sent over his oped, “How to Navigate the New Global Archipelago,” which appeared in the Times of London on Friday, John McCain’s birthday.
Mousavizadeh’s excellent analytical piece echoes a number of the themes I raised in this TWN essay on the Kosovo and broader geostrategic dimensions of the Georgia-Russia conflict.
Essentially, Mousavizadeh advises Obama to resist the temptation to offer McCain-lite responses to high stakes global crises and flash points. He is absolutely right.
I’ll have to add him to my growing list of those who should be high level picks for key positions in an Obama administration. I’d add him to a McCain list as well — but unfortunately — enlightened thinking on global affairs is not something that easily transfers politically at this point in our history.
Read the entire piece, but I am enthusiastically compelled to provide a big chunk of this progressive/realist essay:

As Russia decides where to draw its new boundary with Georgia a reckoning will be due – among the people of Georgia living amid the wreckage of a failed gamble, and among their Western allies suddenly confronted with diplomatic impotence. But for Barack Obama, a different kind of reckoning is taking place: what happens when the formidable political instincts of the probable next US president meet the limits of his experience in national security.
From everything he has said and written, it is evident that Mr Obama, uniquely among leading US politicians, understands the new contours of global affairs – that the world won’t be divided into neat categories of democracies versus autocracies, nor will it converge toward a Western model.
He knows instead, that a world of parts is emerging – of states drifting farther away from each other into a global archipelago of interests and values; and that in an archipelago world, appeals to freedom, democracy and human rights must compete with aims of stability, resource security and the projection of national power.
And yet, as the Georgian conflict spirals into a global crisis, Mr Obama finds himself on the back foot. Initially hesitant in his response to Vladimir Putin’s expedition in South Ossetia, he has had to ratchet up his rhetoric in response to John McCain’s for-us-or-against-us stance.
This is, as Obama the politician would know, a loser’s game, even if Obama the statesman is still finding his way. Trying to outmuscle Mr McCain will invite only contempt among his foes and bewilderment among the millions of his supporters yearning for a different kind of US engagement with the world.
Georgia is only the most recent augury of a new era of zero-sum diplomacy for which the West is ill-prepared. The West’s surprise at Russia’s response was disconcerting enough. More troubling was the outdated assortment of threats with which it has tried to sound tough. Among the suggestions was a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia, denying Russia membership of the World Trade Organisation and excluding it from G8 meetings. A common thread links all three: they are as difficult for the West to achieve as they are unlikely to alter Russia’s behaviour.
Obtaining an Olympic boycott six years after the crisis in Georgia will be extremely challenging. Barring access to the WTO just after the collapse of the Doha talks may be less of a sanction than it sounds.
The G8 threat is even less convincing, although it is telling evidence of a 20th-century mindset that is oblivious to international changes. Before Georgia it would have been hard to find anyone seriously arguing for the importance of G8 meetings (Canada and Italy are members; China is not); much less that being denied entrance could be construed as leverage with a great power.
Far more important to the future of international diplomacy was a little-noticed meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia, last May. There, for the first time, foreign ministers from the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) met to advance their common agenda in a world hitherto defined by Western rules. The BRICs are expected to overtake the combined GDP of the G7 by 2035, and they laid down a marker that they will not wait for reform of the post-Second World War institutions to be heard.
Does this mean that China or India will take Russia’s side against the West? Not necessarily, but it does suggest a more complex interplay of interests in future. Strategic leverage will have to be earned – crisis by crisis, interest by interest.

I am going to have to ask Mousavizadeh to guest blog a piece for TWN.
— Steve Clemons


7 comments on “Obama Should Offer More than McCain-Lite Strategy On Russia-Georgia and Other High Stakes Global Conflicts

  1. söve says:

    The only way forward that addresses the current challenges is to risk really leading on intermediate to long term needs, not getting bogged down is short terms concerns about what some hedged söve poll might say. If elected, we’ll see if Obama is just another mediocre CEO, or even a good one, or whether söve he can break out of the corporate framing to push the kind of change that only söve government can. We know, without a push, the corporate model will only be driven by short-term profits; and corporate executives by and even shorter timeframe and a manipulation-driven approach.


  2. Stephen K. Mack says:

    Heard you on Ian Masters on Sunday on KPFK, out of L.A. Did not know about your site until then.
    Read your post and the Mousavizadeh piece in the Times.You were very impressive with Ian(I never miss his broadcast)and your site is a very welcome addition to the internet.Hope that you can get Mr. Mousavizadeh to post,his piece was very thought provoking as was your interview with Ian.
    Best regards,
    Stephen Mack


  3. JohnH says:

    The other problem facing oil and gas consumers is that producing countries are reluctant to accept the advanced technology they desperately need if it’s conditioned on huge Western companies gaining undue influence over their governments. (The nefarious influence of Big Oil over the American government doesn’t seem to bother most Americans, though FDR noticed it 70 years ago, saying something like, “you can’t win without them, you can’t rule with them.”) Most oil reserves were nationalized decades ago, precisely because of the behavior of Western oil companies.
    So how does a future administration CONVINCE producing governments to allow Western oil companies back in? So far, we’ve been reduced to threatening countries like Iran, denying them access to new technology and financing needed to increase production and to nuclear technology that could free up oil and natural gas for export. The more the US engages in dominating, bullying behavior, the slimmer the chances that we’ll get the oil and gas we need anytime soon.


  4. DonS says:

    First, we know that political posturing on foreign policy matters often looks different for domestic consumption and offshore consumption. Hence, the macro trend of American politicians to reflexively talk tough and show an unabashed America first bias will continue, certainly from Obama, who inherits the secular trend of “Weak democrats” on foreign policy, not to mention his own Muslim sounding albatross-like name. He can wax poetic about game changing, but he will swagger with the best of them, as needed, to bolster his numbers.
    But I applaud Steve for hammering, and I hope continuing to hammer, for a reasonable approach to the massively shifting new world we live in. Do I think Obama really has the conviction or the control, or the guts to be transformational in foreign policy, especially given the defensive, aggressive, back-on-the-heels posture of an America being outmaneuvered, not even intentionally, by a shifting world order? Not really, but I’d like to be disproved; I’d like to see him act the part of a leader who can garner the support of the better angels of the American populace for a future based on progressive human values, not fear.
    But to JohnH’s point about the primacy of energy policy, this is an area where Obama not only can, but also must be transformational.
    We have the good evidence of the Hubbert peak theory showing us that petroleum is indeed on the way out.
    Any sensible, much less moral energy policy must be transformational in view of the generations to come. This hasn’t prevented moral myopia so far. Now with the growing demand of the economies of Brazil, China, and India, we have to cope not only with America’s profligate oil habits, but with being engaged in the increasing profligacy of these large consumers as well.
    For the life of me I cannot see how Obama will meet the real challenge of the energy crisis, requiring real forward thinking and action, while compartmentalizing his foreign policy when it comes to geopolitics. They are connected.
    The only way forward that addresses the current challenges is to risk really leading on intermediate to long term needs, not getting bogged down is short terms concerns about what some hedged poll might say. If elected, we’ll see if Obama is just another mediocre CEO, or even a good one, or whether he can break out of the corporate framing to push the kind of change that only government can. We know, without a push, the corporate model will only be driven by short-term profits; and corporate executives by and even shorter timeframe and a manipulation-driven approach.


  5. JohnH says:

    The archipelago metaphor may be appropriate in some cases, but it does not apply to one of the most vital issues: energy. Obama will need to manage the great divide between energy producers and consumers. Bush tends to see a need for buyers to dominate producers. McCain will presumably continue this expensive and utlitmately futile attempt to force energy producers into the US’s liberalized global energy trading system, even if it means constantly threatening to put them at the end of the barrel of a gun to make them produce a barrel of oil.
    Well, the producers happened to notice that this did not work out so well in Iraq. It won’t work in Russia, Iran, Venezuela, or in a host of other increasingly independent producers either. But Bush and McCain do not seem to have figured that out yet. Or perhaps their imaginations are so limited that they have no solution but the bankrupt one.
    If the last eight years taught us anything, it should have been a simple fact: you can’t force a country to produce oil. Any solution not involving alternative energy or conservation will necessary require energy consuming nations to CONVINCE energy producers to develop and produce.
    Pulling this off will require tremendous ingenuity. First, in today’s world, not investing in new production drives prices up. So how will energy consumers convince producers to risk lots of capital developing new sources, when doing nothing is such a good deal?
    Putin brought a solution to the table at the 2006 G-8 he hosted–provide energy security for producers and consumers alike. Exchange guaranteed pricing for guaranted supply. He was largely ignored. Bush’s backrub of Merkel got more attention.
    So we’re back to the zero sum game–either the producers or the consumers dominate. And Putin is shoring up his control over Asian natural gas going to Europe. This is the lesson of Georgia, though you wouldn’t know it by reading the Western press.
    Assuming you can convince the producers to produce, you still need to CONVINCE local people to support production and distribution. Today’s energy supply network is so extensive and passes across so many ethnic boundaries that the system is vulnerable to a whole host of local grievances. A Kurd blows up the BTC pipeline, or a guerrilla fighter blows up the one in Colombia, in Nigeria, in Mexico, etc. The list will likely grow as those with grievance realize that pipeline provide relatively easy targets.
    Bush’s solution has been to despatch the military to bases along major pipeline routes. But the terrority to be protected is vast, and the pipelines provide convenient, fixed targets. So how can the next administration convince local despots to share the bounty? The World Bank already been tried in Chad, and it hasn’t worked out so well there.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Gads Steve, I’d love to see Palin’s reaction to this particular thread. Can we work moose steak into it somewhere? Perhaps Tahoe can attach some linkage to snowshoes and anti-freeze.
    BTW, dare you answer a simple query? Tell me Steve, do you consider the comment “Russia invaded Georgia” as being an accurate one?


  7. questions says:

    Socrates-minded as I am, I jump right to the metaphor and think it through. The metaphor here is “global archipelago” and the question is, are we really drifting apart and in what ways are we drifting? There is certain to be competition for resources, but more because we are becoming more alike in terms of needs and desires, so there is a simultaneous coming together and coming apart. We may well be brought together by climate issues, by rising seas. Christianity might be a link, even as other religious tensions fester; the human rights movement is a link even as autocrats attempt to divide; the internet is a link even as it is blocked in some places.
    So were I to be thinking more internationally than I generally do, I would think about pushing for global sharing of information, medical technology, energy technology, food technology and so on — all the soft stuff that doesn’t require troops at the borders and missiles aimed at Russia. I think that competition is the wrong model, spheres of influence and military bases and the like are a bad idea, and the clash of cultures is the worst metaphor we could ever be using to shape our imagination.
    Rather than set up trade deals that enrich our corporations, we need to practice something more like international Rawlsianism where the concerns of those with less matter profoundly. The metaphor, then, isn’t archipelagos, it’s the one-planetness of us all.
    Our metaphors really are our world. And that is why it is so important to get the entire generation of Cold Warriors out of power.


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