Let’s see if the U.S. is up to the challenge
And Doing It the Right Way
It makes sense that moderates’ recent electoral triumph in Iran—early results suggest that they have won a majority of seats in the parliament and in the Assembly of Experts—will improve the chances of success for the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian moderates, who generally back President Hassan Rouhani, were an important factor in concluding the deal and are likely to support its continued implementation.
As U.S. policymakers welcome the news that the Obama administration’s signal foreign policy achievement may be on sturdier ground, however, the continued successful implementation of the deal is having important and unanticipated consequences for the United States’ ability to use biting financial sanctions to achieve its foreign policy objectives.
In particular, the nature of the sanctions relief provided as part of the Iran nuclear agreement—which seems less likely to unravel after the election—may actually undermine U.S. sanctions in the future, in part by encouraging foreign companies to re-enter Iranian markets and decrease their reliance on the U.S. financial system. It is worth taking that risk into consideration as some policymakers cheer the outcome of the election and what it may mean for Iranian politics and the future of the nuclear agreement.
In the twenty-first century, arms races are not over weaponry but over connectivity—and the United States is losing ground. At the heart of the connectivity competition is infrastructure. Between 2005 and 2012, to keep up with urbanization, rising international travel, growing trade, the dispersal of supply chains, and increased dependence on global digital services, spending on infrastructure for transportation, energy, and communications has doubled from approximately $2 trillion per year around 2005 to $4 trillion by 2012. That figure is projected to rise to $9 trillion by 2020.
With the world now crossed by a latticework of connections, the age of territorial conquest is largely over. International conflict has fallen; instead, nations compete to gain leverage in the connected world.
TIES THAT BIND
The China-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) is one of the foremost examples of competitive connectivity. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, successive waves of Chinese infrastructure investments have washed over the former Soviet States. China quickly settled border disputes (it borders more post-Soviet Central Asia republics than Russia does), put in place customs agreements, and completed multiple oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
China has more neighbors than any country. It has tense and even hostile histories with some, and suspicions about all. But its strategy of choice was not war but roads, railways, pipelines, and other investments. China treats friends and foes alike: as construction projects to build, own, and operate.
Officials from both Iran and the United States confirming that four detained Iranian-Americans have been released Saturday – in exchange for seven Iranians held or charged in the U.S. (Jan. 16)
DUNBLANE, Scotland — It is a simple plaque for the 16 children gunned down that day in March 1996, set on a small, stone column outside the primary school that continues to educate this town’s young. Built on a slope between trees and overgrown shrubs, it is easy to miss.
But the impact of the loss the memorial reflects endures, nearly 20 years after a 43-year-old man with four handguns stormed the schoolhouse gym in a three-minute shooting spree that seared abhorrence for gun violence into Britain’s national psyche.
The following year, the public outcry over the killings, distant though it was from the halls of power, spurred political action: The British government banned the private ownership of automatic weapons and handguns on Britain’s mainland.
Such swift action has been absent in the United States, even after years of deadly rampages, at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where the collective trauma is perhaps most similar to what this small town continues to feel.
Rightsizing the U.S. Role
Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East strategy often complain that Obama lacks a strategic vision. This is almost exactly wrong. Obama came to office with a conviction that reducing the United States’ massive military and political investment in the Middle East was a vital national security interest in its own right. The occupation of Iraq and the excesses of the war on terrorism had left the United States overextended, especially at a time of economic crisis. “Rightsizing” the United States’ footprint in the region meant not only reducing its material presence but also exercising restraint diplomatically, stepping back and challenging allies to take greater responsibility for their own security. Obama has adhered consistently to this strategy, prioritizing it ruthlessly along the way and firmly resisting efforts to force it off track. This was not a strategy much beloved in Washington or in a region hard-wired for the exercise of American power. But it was a clear and coherent strategy that led Obama to undertake major initiatives on the problems he viewed as rising to the level of core national security interests: Iran’s nuclear weapons program, terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war in Iraq.
Yet for all of Obama’s analytic acuity, the implementation of his policies has often floundered. His administration has consistently failed to deliver on the promises raised by his inspirational speeches. It has struggled to communicate its policies effectively to publics in the Middle East and has been unable to explain obvious hypocrisies. Efforts to remain evenhanded and noninterventionist have infuriated partisans on all sides who wanted unconditional U.S. support rather than an honest broker.