Friday, June 29, 2007

Policy collapse

Two article in the Asia Times highlight the shipwreck of US foreign policy under the Cheney administration.

The first 'A pipeline into the heart of Europe' by M K Bhadrakumar discusses Putin's latest moves in cementing energy deals with Europe, and just how successful he has been. For a summation from the article, this works pretty well:
As per the assessment by an American area specialist, "Western energy policies in Eurasia collapsed in May 2007. During this month, Russia seems to have conclusively defeated all Western-backed projects to bring oil and gas from Central Asia directly to Europe ... Cumulatively, the May agreements signify a strategic defeat of the decade-old US policy to open direct access to Central Asia's oil and gas reserves. By the same token they have nipped in the bud the European Union's belated attempts since 2006 to institute such a policy."
The second, 'US-Iran: Taking talks to the next level' by Kaveh L Afrasiabi discusses the possibility that the US-Iran talks might move beyond discussing Iraqi security to discussing the nuclear standoff in the works. This might be spurred, the article notes, by various factors, the political pressure of the Democrats (not perhaps as big as stated), and the slowing of momentum for further UN sanctions due to European interest in Iranian proposals to reactivate the IAEA inspections.

We've just been the beneficiaries of a four part article in the WaPo about Dick Cheney and his lock on US policy. What the article didn't get into was just how disastrous those policies have been, and how European policy (despite the lip service they continue to pay) has been forced to adapt to these facts:

1. Central Asian energy reserves are being locked up by Russia.

2. Middle East energy reserves are highly exploited, only Iraq and Iran have the potential to increase production, and the only way the US will be able to allow this is to withdraw from Iraq and wait until the carnage stops.

3. The Europeans are leery of over-reliance on Russia, but their other alternative is Iran.

4. Russia profits from high energy prices, tension with Iran keeps prices high, war would make prices skyrocket.

5. US options seem restricted, either attack Iran, or don't attack Iran.

So Russia is in a win-win situation, and the Europeans are being pushed by their own energy needs to undermine US policies. The US positions continue to deteriorate, and because of the paralysis of having policy being fought over publicly, appears to have no chance of effectively changing directions.

If any good comes from all this, it would recognition in Washington that the unilateral policies of the past, and that includes those of Clinton, need to change. The US is going to have to pay the bill for many years for the Iraqi adventure, Democrats and Republicans can continue to kid themselves that a meaningless government in Baghdad passing some law that gives their oil to the US is going to help pay for it, but thats just a way to put off the inevitable. The defeat is there for all to see if there is the courage to look. But a change of course will need a new group of people in charge, and that's not likely. Once again, Clinton's policies, though much better run than Cheney's, were not different in their essence.

It's purely speculative, but I believe that the bureaucratic skills that brought Cheney to the seat of unchallenged power are the same that made him overstretch so badly in foreign policy. Just because people like Rumsfeld can help you grab internal power does not make them reliable guides to the power and weaknesses of the US military. It is a problem of empires that the main goal is getting and holding power, it's not about being successful in running the empire's relations in war and peace with the outlying states. An external disaster may bring down the emperor, but it remains to be seen if it will.


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