Set The Direction

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who’d know a thing or two about dysfunctional national-security teams, is arguing quite strongly that Obama needs to be vocal about setting the direction:

[He is]  making what is, I think, an important point — if Barack Obama wants, as it seems he does, to appoint a national security “team of rivals” then he also needs to make some big, high-profile statements about the policy course he expects the team to steer. The team’s public statements have differed with each other at times and with him at times, and a world that was very excited about his election needs to hear clearly that it’s his team and his policies we’ll be looking at.

Good advice, which I suspect Obama will have no hesitation about following. Hat tip: Matt Yglesias.

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How To Deal With Iran

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has a few pointers on handling the Iranians, among them:

Washington should refrain from making any grand overtures to Tehran that could redeem Ahmadinejad’s leadership and increase his popularity ahead of the country’s June 2009 presidential elections. Since assuming office in August 2005, Ahmadinejad has used his influence to amplify objectionable Iranian foreign practices while curtailing domestic political and social freedoms and flagrantly disregarding human rights; his continued presence could serve as an insurmountable obstacle to confidence building with the United States.

He also counsels avoiding heavy-handed rhetoric and focusing on dealing with Khamenei. Read the whole thing.

Gates Stays

It’s all but official now that Robert Gates will be staying on as secretary of defense after Obama takes office.:

[Senior adviser David] Axelrod said Obama enjoys and invites strong opinions and there will be no “potted plants” in his Cabinet. 

Gates has been negotiating with Obama emissaries over his deputies — some will be retained, and some new — and how the Pentagon will be run.

It’s obvious that Richard Danzig will be getting an understudy’s job somewhere in the mix.

I like the move because Gates hasn’t hesitated to crack down on incompetence, particularly in the Air Force. As for those lefties saying that the new national security team looks too hawkish for their taste, they must not have been paying attention. Obama told anyone who would listen that he intends to pivot attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ahoy, Galrahn

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Galrahn weighs in with a provocative analysis of the situation at sea around the Horn of Africa and declares that the USN’s approach is working precisely because it’s encouraging other counties to deploy ships and work together:

The US policy has been to do nothing and allow the development of an international response. We are witnessing the slow and sometimes painful strategic gains of this policy, and it all good for the United States. Let it develop and feel good about it, because for once we are witness to our nations maritime strategy producing our intended national goals. It is obviously very difficult to stomach in the rapid information flow of the information age, but the desired result is not the United States to manage this problem unilaterally, rather we want to solve this very difficult problem in a multinational way, and we find ourselves on the verge of our desired national objective to dealing with this problem.

OK, but I question some of the logic along the way, namely:

Not a single US flagged ship has even been approached by pirates (one might say they are intentionally avoided), and not a single US mariner has been taken hostage. After a year of what is often described as sophisticated attacks, not a single action has been taken against the US due to the threat of US response. The United States still lacks any reason to get involved against Somali piracy, and has responded appropriately by doing nothing.

Well, that probably has more to do with the pirates’ lack of opportunity than any fear they have of the US. Bear in mind that US-flagged ships constitute just a bit over 1 percent of the world’s merchant fleet. That’s right: according to the most recent statistics, Old Glory flies over just 347 of the 31,477 vessels engaged in hauling goods. That said, we clearly do have a dog in the fight, as shipping companies are beginning to point out:

Frontline Ltd., which sails five to 10 tankers of crude a month through the treacherous Gulf of Aden, said it was negotiating a change of shipping routes with some of its customers, including oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Chevron, a move that could boost costs by up to 40 percent.

In case you haven’t noticed, the economy’s a bit fragile right now. Big increases in the cost of transport won’t help.

Meanwhile, in the good-news department, both the Russians and the Saudis plan to contribute more hulls to the overwatch force, and the Germans might join in later. The Indians, meanwhile, are enjoying the prestige that comes with having shot up a pirate whose occupants were dumb enough to have fired an RPG at a frigate. As Galrahn points out, however, they’re sensing a bit of a leadership vacuum at sea.

Closet Enemies

The NYT looks at Obama’s diplomatic challenges vis-a-vis Pakistan. They don’t seem to get that the army there sparked the terrorism related to Kashmir, or that it’s hostile to us because we won’t side with Pakistan against India. But the Pakistanis have a few blind spots too:

Exhibit A for the Pakistanis is India’s nuclear deal with the United States, which allows India to engage in nuclear trade even though it never joined the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Pakistan, with its recent history of spreading nuclear technology, received no comparable bargain.

The nuclear deal was devised in Washington to position India as a strategic counterbalance to China. That is how it is seen in Pakistan, too, but with no enthusiasm.

“The United States has changed the whole nuclear order by this deal, and in doing so is containing China, the only friend Pakistan has in the region,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani Army general.

Let’s see if we can come with the reasons why India’s bomb doesn’t particularly bother the US, shall we?:

  1. They haven’t sold it or the underlying technology to anyone else.
  2. There doesn’t seem much chance that US-Indian interests would clash so violently as to invite them to use the bomb against us.

Such niceties don’t really seem to be understood in Islamabad.

Supply Issues

The US is trying to find new supply routes into Afghanistan because the Taliban and their friends are causing trouble for convoys on both sides of the Khyber Pass:

A week ago, a bold Taliban raid on a NATO supply convoy on the Pakistani side of the pass forced authorities to temporarily close traffic through Torkham [the first Afghan border town]. For days after the attack on the 23-truck convoy, many of the hundreds of truckers who regularly traverse this treacherous route were stranded, forced to watch their profits dwindle. Pakistani authorities reopened the NATO supply route through Torkham on Monday after assigning extra security to the convoys.

But on Tuesday, a day after the reopening, dozens of truck drivers seemed far from certain that their troubles were over. The attack in the Khyber tribal area on the Pakistani side of the border last week was one in a series in recent months that has cost NATO suppliers millions in losses this year. In March, insurgents set fire to 40 to 50 NATO oil tankers near Torkham. A month later, Taliban raiders made off with military helicopter engines valued at about $13 million.

The solution in part lies in running supplies through Russia, which illustrates why getting into a pissing match over Georgia or missile defense is not such a hot idea at the moment.

Buy Them Off?

Naval War College faculty member Nikolas K. Gvosdev has an idea for dealing with the pirates:

It is interesting to note that the historical comparison with the Barbary Pirates gives us both models–force and accommodation. President Washington, for instance, did negotiate tribute arrangements to protect American shipping. Even after the “shores of Tripoli” incident, the U.S. would alternate between using the stick and the carrot.

There has been some interesting discussion about the possible applicability of the Petraeus model — an approach to tribal elders in the coastal villages about forming “sons of Somalia” groups that might be paid to act as “coastal security” — whether there might be impetus for such a move remains to be seen.

Whatever works, I say.