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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

U.S. Foreign Policy from the Founders' Perspective

By George Friedman
Last week I discussed how the Founding Fathers might view the American debt crisis and the government shutdown. This week I thought it would be useful to consider how the founders might view foreign policy. I argued that on domestic policy they had clear principles, but unlike their ideology, those principles were never mechanistic or inflexible. For them, principles dictated that a gentleman pays his debts and does not casually increase his debts, the constitutional provision that debt is sometimes necessary notwithstanding. They feared excessive debt and abhorred nonpayment, but their principles were never completely rigid.
Whenever there is a discussion of the guidelines laid down by the founders for American foreign policy, Thomas Jefferson's admonition to avoid foreign entanglements and alliances is seen as the founding principle. That seems reasonable to me inasmuch as George Washington expressed a similar sentiment. So while there were some who favored France over Britain during the French Revolutionary Wars, the main thrust of American foreign policy was neutrality. The question is: How does this principle guide the United States now?

A Matter of Practicality

Like all good principles, Jefferson's call for avoiding foreign entanglements derived from practicality. The United States was weak. It depended heavily on exports, particularly on exports to Britain. Its navy could not guarantee the security of its sea-lanes, which were in British hands and were contested by the French. Siding with the French against the British would have wrecked the American economy and would have invited a second war with Britain. On the other hand, overcommitting to Britain would have essentially returned the United States to a British dependency.
Avoiding foreign entanglements was a good principle when there were no other attractive strategies. Nonetheless, it was Jefferson himself who engineered a major intrusion into European affairs with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. Initially, Jefferson did not intend to purchase the entire territory. He wanted to own New Orleans, which had traded hands between Spain and France and which was the essential port for access between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri river system. Jefferson sensed that Napoleon would sell New Orleans to finance his war in Europe, but he was surprised when Napoleon countered with an offer to sell all of France's North American holdings for $15 million. This would change the balance of power in North America by blocking potential British ambitions, opening the Gulf route to the Atlantic to the United States and providing the cash France needed to wage wars.
At the time, this was not a major action in the raging Napoleonic Wars. However, it was not an action consistent with the principle of avoiding entanglement. The transaction held the risk of embroiling the United States in the Napoleonic Wars, depending on how the British reacted. In fact, a decade later, after Napoleon was defeated, the British did turn on the United States, first by interfering with American shipping and then, when the Americans responded, by waging war in 1812, burning Washington and trying to seize New Orleans after the war officially ended.
Jefferson undertook actions that entangled the United States in the affairs of others and in dangers he may not have anticipated -- one of the major reasons for avoiding foreign entanglements in the first place. And he did this against his own principles.
The reason was simple: Given the events in Europe, a unique opportunity presented itself to seize the heartland of the North American continent. The opportunity would redefine the United States. It carried with it risks. But the rewards were so great that the risks had to be endured. Avoiding foreign entanglements was a principle. It was not an ideological absolute.
Jefferson realized that the United States already was involved in Europe's affairs by virtue of its existence. When the Napoleonic Wars ended, France or Britain would have held Louisiana, and the United States would have faced threats east from the Atlantic and west from the rest of the continent. Under these circumstances, it would struggle to survive. Therefore, being entangled already, Jefferson acted to minimize the danger.
This is a very different view of Jefferson's statement on avoiding foreign entanglements than has sometimes been given. As a principle, steering clear of foreign entanglements is desirable. But the decision on whether there will be an entanglement is not the United States' alone. Geographic realities and other nations' foreign policies can implicate a country in affairs it would rather avoid. Jefferson understood that the United States could not simply ignore the world. The world got a vote. But the principle that excessive entanglement should be avoided was for him a guiding principle. Given the uproar over his decision, both on constitutional and prudential grounds, not everyone agreed that Jefferson was faithful to his principle. Looking back, however, it was prudent.

The Illusion of Isolationism

The U.S. government has wrestled with this problem since World War I. The United States intervened in the war a few weeks after the Russian czar abdicated and after the Germans began fighting the neutral countries. The United States could not to lose access to the Atlantic, and if Russia withdrew from the war, then Germany could concentrate on its west. A victory there would have left Germany in control of both Russian resources and French industry. That would have created a threat to the United States. It tried to stay neutral, then was forced to make a decision of how much risk it could bear. The United States opted for war.
Isolationists in World War II argued against involvement in Europe (they were far more open to blocking the Japanese in China). But the argument rested on the assumption that Germany would be blocked by the Soviets and the French. The alliance with the Soviets and, more important, the collapse of France and the invasion of the Soviet Union, left a very different calculation. In its most extreme form, a Soviet defeat and a new Berlin-friendly government in Britain could have left the Germans vastly more powerful than the United States. And with the French, British and German fleets combined, such an alliance could have also threatened U.S. control of the Atlantic at a time when the Japanese controlled the western Pacific.
A similar problem presented itself during the Cold War. In this case, the United States did not trust the European balance of power to contain the Soviet Union. That balance of power had failed twice, leading to alliances that brought the United States into the affairs of others. The United States calculated that early entanglements were less risky than later entanglements. This calculation seemed to violate the Jeffersonian principle, but in fact, as with Louisiana, it was prudent action within the framework of the Jeffersonian principle.
NATO appeared to some to be a violation of the founders' view of a prudent foreign policy. I think this misinterprets the meaning of Jefferson's and Washington's statements. Avoiding entanglements and alliances is a principle worth considering, but not to the point of allowing it to threaten the national interest. Jefferson undertook the complex and dangerous purchase of Louisiana because he thought it carried less risk than allowing the territory to remain in European hands.
His successors stumbled into war partly over the purchase, but Jefferson was prepared to make prudent judgments. In the same way, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, realizing that avoiding foreign entanglements was impossible, tried to reduce future risk.
Louisiana, the two world wars and the Cold War shared one thing: the risks were great enough to warrant entanglement. All three could have ended in disaster for the United States. The idea that the oceans would protect the United States was illusory. If one European power dominated all of Europe, its ability to build fleets would be extraordinary. Perhaps the United States could have matched it; perhaps not. The dangers outweighed the benefits of blindly adhering to a principle.

A General Role

There is not an existential threat to the United States today. The major threat is militant Islamism, but as frightening as it is, it cannot destroy the United States. It can kill large numbers of Americans. Here the Jeffersonian principle becomes more important. There are those who say that if the United States had not supported Israel in the West Bank or India in Kashmir, then militant Islamism would have never been a threat. In other words, if we now, if not in the past, avoided foreign entanglements, then there would be no threat to the United States, and Jefferson's principles would now require disentanglement.
In my opinion the Islamist threat does not arise from any particular relationship the United States has had, nor does it arise from the celebration of the Islamic principles that Islamists hold. Rather, it arises from the general role of the United States as the leading Western country. The idea that the United States could avoid hostility by changing its policies fails to understand that like the dangers in 1800, the threat arises independent of U.S. action.
But militant Islamism does not threaten the United States existentially. Therefore, the issue is how to apply the Jeffersonian principle in this context. In my opinion, the careful application of his principle, considering all the risks and rewards, would tell us the following: It is impossible to completely defeat militant Islamists militarily, but it is possible to mitigate the threat they pose. The process of mitigation carries with it its own risks, particularly as the United States carries out operations that don't destroy militant Islamists but do weaken the geopolitical architecture of the Muslim world -- which is against the interests of the United States. Caution should be exercised that the entanglement doesn't carry risks greater than the reward.
Jefferson was always looking at the main threat. Securing sea-lanes and securing the interior river systems was of overwhelming importance. Other things could be ignored. But the real challenge of the United States is defining the emerging threat and dealing with it decisively. How much misery could have been avoided if Hitler had been destroyed in 1936? Who knew how much misery Hitler would cause in 1936? These thoughts are clear only in hindsight.
Still, the principle is the same. Jefferson wanted to avoid foreign entanglements except in cases where there was substantial benefit to American national interests. He was prepared to apply his principle differently then. The notion of avoiding foreign entanglements must therefore be seen as a principle that, like all well-developed principles, is far more complex than it appears. Foreign entanglements must be avoided when the ends are trivial or unattainable. But when we can get Louisiana, the principle of avoidance dictates involvement.
As in domestic matters, ideology is easy. Principles are difficult. They can be stated succinctly, but they must be applied with all due sophistication.

Read more: U.S. Foreign Policy from the Founders' Perspective | Stratfor
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The U.S. Debt Crisis from the Founders' Perspective

By George Friedman
The U.S. government is paralyzed, and we now face the possibility that the United States will default on its debt. Congress is unable to resolve the issue, and President Obama is as obstinate as the legislators who oppose him. To some extent, our political system is functioning as intended -- the Founding Fathers meant for it to be cumbersome. But as they set out to form a more perfect union, they probably did not anticipate the extent to which we have been able to cripple ourselves.
Striving for ineffectiveness seems counterintuitive. But there was a method to the founders' madness, and we first need to consider their rationale before we apply it to the current dilemma afflicting Washington.

Fear and Moderation

The founders did not want an efficient government. They feared tyranny and created a regime that made governance difficult. Power was diffused among local, state and federal governments, each with their own rights and privileges. Even the legislative branch was divided into two houses. It was a government created to do little, and what little it could do was meant to be done slowly.
The founders' fear was simple: Humans are by nature self-serving and prone to corruption. Thus the first purpose of the regime was to pit those who wished to govern against one other in order to thwart their designs. Except for times of emergency or of overwhelming consensus, the founders liked what we today call gridlock.
At the same time, the founders believed in government. The U.S. Constitution is a framework for inefficiency, but its preamble denotes an extraordinary agenda: unity, justice, domestic tranquility, defense, general welfare and liberty. So while they feared government, they saw government as a means to staggeringly ambitious ends -- even if those ends were never fully defined.
Indeed, the founders knew how ambiguous their goals were, and this ambiguity conferred on them a sense of moderation. They were revolutionaries, yet they were inherently reasonable men. They sought a Novus Ordo Seclorum, a "New Order of the Ages," a term that was later put on the Great Seal of the United States, yet they were not fanatical. The murders and purges that would occur under Robespierre or Lenin were foreign to their nature.
The founders' moderation left many things unanswered. For example, they did not agree on what justice was, as can be seen in their divided stance on slavery. (Notably, they were prepared to compromise even on something as terrible as slavery so long as the Constitution and regime could be created.) But if the purpose of the Constitution was to secure the "general welfare," what was the government's role in creating the circumstances that would help individuals pursue their own interests?
There is little in the Constitution that answered such questions, despite how meticulously it was crafted, and the founders knew it. It was not that they couldn't agree on what "general welfare" meant. Instead, they understood, I think, that general welfare would vary over time, much as "common defense" would vary. They laid down a principle to be pursued but left it to their heirs to pursue it as their wisdom dictated.
In a sense, they left an enigma for the public to quarrel over. This was partly intentional. Subsequent arguments would involve the meaning of the Constitution rather than the possibility of creating a new one, so while we would disagree on fundamental issues, we would not constantly try to re-establish the regime. It may not have been a coincidence that Thomas Jefferson, who hinted at continual revolution, did not participate in the Constitutional Convention.
The founders needed to bridge the gaps between the need to govern, the fear of tyranny and the uncertainty of the future. Their solution was not in law but in personal virtue. The founders were fascinated by Rome and its notion of governance. Their Senate was both a Roman name and venue for the Roman vision of the statesman, particularly Cincinnatus, who left his farm to serve (not rule) and then returned to it when his service was over. The Romans, at least in the eyes of the founders if not always in reality, did not see government as a profession but rather as a burden and obligation. The founders wanted reluctant rulers.
They also wanted virtuous rulers. Specifically they lauded Roman virtue. It is the virtue that most reasonable men would see as praiseworthy: courage, prudence, kindness to the weak, honoring friendship, resolution with enemies. These were not virtues that were greatly respected by intellectuals, since they knew that life was more complicated than this. But the founders knew that the virtues of common sense ought not be analyzed until they lose their vigor and die. They did not want philosopher-kings; they wanted citizens of simple, clear virtues, who served reluctantly and left gladly, pursued their passions but were blocked by the system from imposing their idiosyncratic vision, pursued the ends of the preamble, and were contained in their occasional bitterness by the checks and balances that would frustrate the personal and ideological ambitions of others.
The Founding Father who best reflects these values is, of course, George Washington. Among the founders, it is he whom we should heed as we ponder the paralysis-by-design of the founders' system and the current conundrum threatening an American debt default. He understood that the public would be reluctant to repay debt and that the federal government would lack the will to tax the public to pay debt on its behalf. He stressed the importance of redeeming and discharging public debt. He discouraged accruing additional debt and warned against overusing debt.
However, Washington understood there would be instances in which debt had to be incurred. He saw public credit as vital and therefore something that ought to be used sparingly -- particularly in the event of war -- and then aggressively repaid. This is not a technical argument for those who see debt as a way to manage the economy. It is a moral argument built around the virtue of prudence.
Of course, he made this argument at a time when the American dollar was not the world's reserve currency, and when there was no Federal Reserve Bank able to issue money at will. It was a time when the United States borrowed in gold and silver and had to repay in the same. Therefore in a technical sense, both the meaning and uses of debt have changed. From a purely economic standpoint, a good argument can be made that Washington's views no longer apply.
But Washington was making a moral argument, not an argument for economists. From the founders' perspective, debt was not simply a technical issue; it was a moral issue. What was borrowed had to be repaid. Easing debt may power the economy, but the founders would have argued that the well-being of the polity does not make economic growth the sole consideration. The moral consequences are there, too.

The Republic of the Mind

Consequently, I think the founders would have questioned the prudence of our current debt. They would ask if it were necessary to incur, and how and whether it would be paid back. They would also question whether economic growth driven by debt actually strengthens the nation. In any case, I think there is little doubt they would be appalled by our debt levels, not necessarily because of what it might do to the economy, but because of what it does to the national character. However, because they were moderate men they would not demand an immediate solution. Nor would they ask for a solution that undermines national power.
As for federally mandated health care, I think they would be wary of entrusting such an important service to an entity they feared viscerally. But they wouldn't have been fanatical in their resistance to it. As much as federally mandated health care would frighten them, I believe fanaticism would have frightened them even more.
The question of a default would have been simple. They would have been disgusted by any failure to pay a debt unless it was simply impossible to do so. They would have regarded self-inflicted default -- regardless of the imprudence of the debt, or health care reform or any such subject -- as something moderate people do not contemplate, let alone do.
There is a perfectly valid argument that says nothing the founders believe really affects the current situation. This is a discussion reasonable and thoughtful people ought to have without raised voices or suspicion that their opponent is vile. But in my opinion, we have to remember that our political and even private life has been framed by our regime and therefore by its founders. The concept of limited government, of the distinction between public and private life, of obligation and rights, all flow from the founders.
The three branches of government, the great hopes of the preamble and the moral character needed to navigate the course continue to define us. The moral character was always problematic from the beginning. Washington was unique, but America's early political parties fought viciously -- with Aaron Burr even shooting Alexander Hamilton. The republic of the mind was always greater than the republic itself. Still, when we come to moments such as these, it is useful to contemplate what the founders had in mind and measure ourselves against that.

Read more: The U.S. Debt Crisis from the Founders' Perspective | Stratfor
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What is a Dictator?

By Robert D. Kaplan
What is a dictator, or an authoritarian? I'll bet you think you know. But perhaps you don't. Sure, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong were dictators. So were Saddam Hussein and both Hafez and Bashar al Assad. But in many cases the situation is not that simple and stark. In many cases the reality -- and the morality -- of the situation is far more complex.
Deng Xiaoping was a dictator, right? After all, he was the Communist Party boss of China from 1978 to 1992. He was not elected. He ruled through fear. He approved the massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. But he also led China in the direction of a market economy that raised the standard of living and the degree of personal freedoms for more people in a shorter period of time than perhaps ever before in recorded economic history. For that achievement, one could arguably rate Deng as one of the greatest men of the 20th century, on par with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
So is it fair to put Deng in the same category as Saddam Hussein, or even Hosni Mubarak, the leader of Egypt, whose sterile rule did little to prepare his people for a more open society? After all, none of the three men were ever elected. And they all ruled through fear. So why not put them all in the same category?
Or what about Lee Kuan Yew and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali? During the early phases of Lee's rule in Singapore he certainly behaved in an authoritarian style, as did Ben Ali throughout his entire rule in Tunisia. So don't they both deserve to be called authoritarians? Yet Lee raised the standard of living and quality of life in Singapore from the equivalent of some of the poorest African countries in the 1960s to that of the wealthiest countries in the West by the early 1990s. He also instituted meritocracy, good governance, and world-class urban planning. Lee's two-volume memoir reads like the pages in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Ben Ali, by contrast, was merely a security service thug who combined brutality and extreme levels of corruption, and whose rule was largely absent of reform. Like Mubarak, he offered stability but little else.
You get the point. Dividing the world in black and white terms between dictators and democrats completely misses the political and moral complexity of the situation on the ground in many dozens of countries. The twin categories of democrats and dictators are simply too broad for an adequate understanding of many places and their rulers -- and thus for an adequate understanding of geopolitics. There is surely a virtue in blunt, simple thinking and pronouncements. Simplifying complex patterns allows people to see underlying critical truths they might otherwise have missed. But because reality is by its very nature complex, too much simplification leads to an unsophisticated view of the world. One of the strong suits of the best intellectuals and geopoliticians is their tendency to reward complex thinking and their attendant ability to draw fine distinctions.
Fine distinctions should be what geopolitics and political science are about. It means that we recognize a world in which, just as there are bad democrats, there are good dictators. World leaders in many cases should not be classified in black and white terms, but in many indeterminate shades, covering the spectrum from black to white.
More examples:
Nawaz Sharif and his rival, the late Benazir Bhutto, when they alternately ruled Pakistan in the 1990s were terrible administrators. They were both elected by voters, but each governed in a thoroughly corrupt, undisciplined and unwise manner that made their country less stable and laid the foundation for military rule. They were democrats, but illiberal ones.
The late King Hussein of Jordan and the late Park Chung Hee of South Korea were both dictators, but their dynamic, enlightened rules took unstable pieces of geography and provided them with development and consequent relative stability. They were dictators, but liberal ones.
Amid this political and moral complexity that spans disparate regions of the Earth, some patterns do emerge. On the whole, Asian dictators have performed better than Middle Eastern ones. Deng of China, Lee of Singapore, Park of South Korea, Mahathir bin Mohammad of Malaysia, Chiang Kai-Shek of Taiwan were all authoritarians to one degree or another. But their autocracies led to economic and technological development, to better governance, and to an improved quality of life. Most important, their rules, however imperfect, have overall better positioned their societies for democratic reforms later on. All of these men, including the Muslim Mahathir, were influenced, however indirectly and vaguely, by a body of values known as Confucianism: respect for hierarchy, elders, and, in general, ethical living in the here-and-now of this world.
Contrast that with Arab dictators such as Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt, Saddam of Iraq, and the al Assads of Syria. Ben Ali and Mubarak, it is true, were far less repressive than Saddam and the elder Assad. Moreover, Ben Ali and Mubarak did encourage some development of a middle class in their countries. But they were not ethical reformers by any means. Of course, Saddam and al Assad were altogether brutal. They ran states so suffocating in their levels of repression that they replicated prison yards. Rather than Confucianism, Saddam and al Assad were motivated by Baathism, a half-baked Arab socialism so viciously opposed to Western colonialism that it created a far worse tyranny of its own.
Beyond the Middle East and Asia there is the case of Russia. In the 1990s, Russia was ruled by Boris Yeltsin, a man lauded in the West for being a democrat. But his undisciplined rule led to sheer economic and social chaos. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is much closer to an authoritarian -- and is increasingly so -- and is consequently despised in the West. But, helped by energy prices, he has restored Russia tosome measure of stability, and thus dramatically improved the quality of life of average Russians. And he has done this without resorting to the level of authoritarianism -- with the mass disappearances and constellation of Siberian labor camps -- of the czars and commissars of old.
Finally, there is the most morally vexing case of all: that of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In the 1970s and 1980s, Pinochet created more than a million new jobs, reduced the poverty rate from a third of the population to as low as a tenth, and the infant mortality rate from 78 per 1,000 to 18. Pinochet's Chile was one of the few non-Asian countries in the world to experience double-digit Asian levels of economic growth at the time. Pinochet prepared his country well for eventual democracy, even as his economic policy became a model for the developing and post-Communist worlds. But Pinochet is also rightly the object of intense hatred among liberals and humanitarians the world over for perpetrating years of systematic torture against tens of thousands of victims. So where does he fall on the spectrum from black to white?
Not only is the world of international affairs one of many indeterminate shades, but it is also one in which, sometimes, it is impossible to know just where to locate someone on that spectrum. The question of whether ends justify means should not only be answered by metaphysical doctrine, but also by empirical observation -- sometimes ends do justify means, sometimes they don't. Sometimes the means are unconnected to the ends, and are therefore to be condemned, as is the case with Chile. Such is the intricacy of the political and moral universe. Complexity and fine distinctions are things to be embraced; otherwise geopolitics, political science, and related disciplines distort rather than illuminate.

Read more: What is a Dictator? | Stratfor
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Roots of the Government Shutdown

By George Friedman
In general, Stratfor deals with U.S. domestic politics only to the extent that it affects international affairs. Certainly, this topic has been argued and analyzed extensively. Nevertheless, the shutdown of the American government is a topic that must be understood from our point of view, because it raises the issue of whether the leading global power is involved in a political crisis so profound that it is both losing its internal cohesion and the capacity to govern. If that were so, it would mean the United States would not be able to act in global affairs, and that in turn would mean that the international system would undergo a profound change. I am not interested in the debate over who is right. I am, however, interested in the question of what caused this shutdown, and ultimately what it tells us about the U.S. capacity to act.
That is one reason to address it. A broader reason to address it is to understand why the leading global power has entered a period when rhetoric has turned into increasingly dysfunctional actions. The shutdown of the government has thus far not disrupted American life as a whole, although it has certainly disrupted the lives of some dramatically.
It originated in a political dispute. U.S. President Barack Obama proposed and Congress approved a massive set of changes in U.S. health care. These changes were upheld in court after legal challenges. There appears to be significant opposition to this legislation according to polls, but the legislation's opponents in Congress lack the ability to repeal it and override a presidential veto. Therefore, opponents attached amendments to legislation funding government operations, and basically said that legislation would only be passed if implementation of health care reform were blocked or at least delayed. Opponents of health care reform had enough power to block legislation on funding the government. Proponents of health care reform refused to abandon their commitment for reform, and therefore the legislation to fund the government failed and the government shut down.

Shutdowns and Shifts in the U.S. Political System

Similar shutdowns happened during the 1990s, and I am not prepared to say that divisions in our society have never been so deep or partisanship so powerful. I've written in the past pointing out that political vituperation has been common in the United States since its founding. Certainly nothing today compares to what was said during the Civil War, and public incivility during the Vietnam War was at least as intense.
What has changed over time is the impact of this incivility on the ability of the government to function. Consider the substantial threat that the United States might refuse to pay the debts it has incurred by consent of Congress and presidents past and present. In private life, refusal to pay debts when one can pay them is fairly serious. Though this is no less serious in public life, this outcome in the coming weeks seems conceivable. It is not partisanship, but the consequences of partisanship on the operation of the government that appear to have changed. The trend is not new, but it is intensifying. Where did it start?
From where I sit, there was a massive shift in the 1970s in how the American political system operates. Prior to then, candidate selection was based on delegates to national conventions, and the delegates to conventions were selected through a combination of state conventions and some primaries. Political bosses controlled the selection of state convention delegates, and therefore the bosses controlled the delegates to the national convention -- and that meant that these bosses controlled the national conventions.
There was ample opportunity for corruption in this system, of course. The state party bosses were interested in enhancing their own security and power, and that was achieved by patronage, but they were not particularly ideological. By backing someone likely to be elected, they would get to appoint postmasters and judges and maybe even Cabinet secretaries. They used the carrot of patronage and the stick of reprisals for those who didn't follow the bosses' line. And they certainly were interested in money in exchange for championing business interests. They were ideological to the extent to which their broad constituencies were, and were prepared to change with them. But their eyes were on the mood of the main constituencies, not smaller ones. These were not men given to principled passion, and the dissident movements of the 1960s accordingly held men like Chicago's Richard J. Daley responsible for repressing their movements.
The reformers wanted to break the hold of the party bosses over the system and open it to dissent, something party bosses disliked. The reformers did so by widely replacing state conventions with primary systems. This severely limited the power of state and county chairmen, who could no longer handpick candidates. These people no longer controlled their parties as much as presided over them.
Political parties ceased being built around patronage systems, but rather around the ability to raise money. Money, not the bosses' power, became the center of gravity of the political system, and those who could raise money became the power brokers. More important, those who were willing to donate became candidates' main constituency. The paradox of the reforms was that in breaking the power of the bosses, money became more rather than less important in the selection of candidates. Money has always been central to American politics. There has never been a time when it didn't matter. But with the decline of political bosses, factors other than money were eliminated.
Through the next decade, reformers tried to get control over money. Though they had gotten rid of the bosses, getting money out of politics proved daunting. This put power in the hands of business, which by hook or crook, Citizens United or not, was going to pursue its interests through the political system. But in general its interests were fairly narrow and were not particularly ideological. Where before business gave to party bosses, it now donated to candidates and political action committees. Of course, if this route were closed down, still another route would be found. The candidates need money, businesses need to protect their political interests. Fortunately, most businessmen's imagination stops at money, limiting the damage they can do.

An Unexpected Consequence

There was, however, an unexpected consequence. The reformers' vision was that the fall of the bosses would open the door to broad democratic participation. But the fact was that the American people did not care nearly as much about politics as the reformers thought they ought to. Participation in presidential primaries was frequently well below 50 percent, and in state and local elections, it was far lower.
For most Americans, private life is more important than public life. There is only so much time and energy available, the issues are arcane and rarely involve things that will change ordinary citizens' lives much, and there is little broad-based ideological passion. Citizens frequently don't know or care who their congressman is, let alone who their state senator is. They care about schools and roads and taxes, and so long as those are functioning reasonably well, they are content.
This greatly frustrated the reformers. They cared deeply about politics, and believed that everyone should, too. But in the country our founders bequeathed us, it was expected that most people would concern themselves with private things. And in fact they do: They do not vote in primaries or even in general elections.
The primaries were left to the minority who cared. At the beginning, these were people who felt strongly about particular issues: corporate greed, the environment, war, abortion, taxes, and so on. Over time, these particular issues congealed into ideology. An ideology differs from issue-oriented matters in that ideology is a package of issues. On the right, low taxes and hostility to abortion frequently are linked. On the left, corporate greed and war are frequently linked. Eventually, a bond is created showing that apparently disparate issues are in fact part of the same package.
Particular issues meld to form ideological factions. The ideological factions take common positions on a wide range of issues. The factions are relatively small minorities, but their power is vastly magnified by the primary system. Ideologues care because ideologies contain an apocalyptic element: If something is not done soon, the argument goes, catastrophe will ensue. The majority might well feel some unease regarding particular topics, and some may feel disaster is afoot, but they do not share the ideologue's belief that redemption can come from the political process.
This in part might be because of a sense of helplessness, and in part it might reflect a deeper sophistication about how the world really works, but either way, this type of person doesn't vote in primaries. But ideologues do. Perhaps not all do, and not everyone who votes is an ideologue, but it is ideology that generates a great deal of the energy that contributes to our political process. And it is ideology that, for example, links the deep and genuine passion over abortion to other issues.
A candidate in either party does not need the votes of the majority of registered voters. He needs the votes of the majority of voters who will show up. In the past model, voters showed up because, say, they got their job on the highway crew from the county boss, and they had to appear at the polls if they wanted to keep it. Those days are gone. Now, people show up because of their passionate belief in a particular ideology, and money is spent convincing them that a candidate shares their passionate commitment.
After raising the funds by convincing primary voters of their ideological commitment, the general election can turn into a race between two ideological packages. The winner will only be re-elected if primary voters see him as having been sufficiently loyal to their ideology while in office.

Bosses vs. Ideology

Bosses were corrupt, and in that corruption they were moderate through indifference. Contemporary politicians -- not all of them but enough of them -- live within a framework of ideology where accommodation is the epitome of lacking principle. If you believe deeply in something, then how can you compromise on it? And if everything you believe in derives from an ideology where every issue is a matter of principle, and ideology clashes with ideology, then how can anyone fold his cards? You can't go back to voters who believe that you have betrayed them and expect to be re-elected.
In the 20th century, the boss system selected such presidents as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. I was struck at how a self-evidently corrupt and undemocratic system would have selected such impressive candidates (albeit along with Warren Harding and other less impressive ones). The system should not have worked, but on the whole, it worked better than we might have imagined. I leave to others to judge how these compare to post-reform candidates like Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama.
There is a vast difference between principle and ideology. Principles are core values that do not dictate every action on every subject, but guide you in some way. Ideology as an explanation of how the world works is comprehensive and compelling. Most presidents find that governing requires principles, but won't allow ideology. But it is the senators and particularly the congressmen -- who run in districts where perhaps 20 percent of eligible voters vote in primaries, most of them ideologues -- who are forced away from principle and toward ideology.
All political systems are flawed and all political reforms have unexpected and frequently unwelcome consequences. In the end, a political system must be judged on the results that it brings. When we look at those elected under the old system, it is difficult to argue that reforms have vastly improved the leadership stock. The argument is frequently made that this is because of the pernicious effect of money or the media on the system. I would argue that the problem is that the current system magnifies the importance of the ideologues such that current political outcomes increasingly do not reflect the public will, and that this is happening at an accelerated pace.
It is not ideology that is the problem. It is the overrepresentation of ideologues in the voting booth. Most Americans are not ideologues, and therefore the reformist model has turned out to be as unrepresentative as the political boss system was. This isn't the ideologues fault; they are merely doing what they believe. But most voters are indifferent. Where the bosses used to share the public's lack of expectation of great things from politics, there is no one prepared to limit the role of ideology. There is no way to get people to vote, and the reforms that led to a universally used primary system have put elections that most people don't participate in at center stage.
Each faction is deeply committed to its beliefs, and feels it would be corrupt to abandon them. Even if it means closing the government, even if it means defaulting on debt, ideology is a demanding mistress who permits no other lovers. Anyone who reads this will recognize his enemy at work. I, however, am holding everyone responsible, from left to right -- and especially the indifferent center. I hold myself accountable as well: I have no idea what I could do to help change matters, but I am sure there is something.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column misstated the first name of 1960s-era mayor, Richard J. Daley. 

Read more: The Roots of the Government Shutdown | Stratfor
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Sunday, October 6, 2013

China's Ambitions in Xinjiang and Central Asia: Part 1

China's Ambitions in Central Asia


Editor's NoteThis is a three-part series on China's evolving strategic interests in Central Asia and in its own far northwest, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Part 1 looks at Xinjiang's history as a "buffer region" protecting China's core and linking it to Eurasia. This installment also examines recent efforts by Beijing to adapt the region's legacies to new uses. Read more in Part 2 and Part 3.
In mid-September Chinese President Xi Jinping rounded out a 10-day tour of Central Asia that included state visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek. At each stop, the new president made hearty pledges of financial support and calls for further diplomatic, security and energy cooperation. In Turkmenistan, Xi inaugurated a natural gas field. In Kazakhstan, he agreed to invest $30 billion in energy and transportation projects. In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, he made similar promises to increase investment and cooperation in the coming years.
Xi's tour can be examined as part of China's struggle to reduce its exposure to security risks and supply disruptions off its coast by developing new overland transport routes for goods, energy and other natural resources. China's eastern seaboard, and the maritime realm beyond it, have dominated Chinese political, economic and military planning in recent decades, and in many ways it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The coast will remain central to China's role in the global economy, facilitating the flow of Chinese goods to overseas markets, as well as the imports of seaborne energy and raw materials relied upon heavily by coastal provinces to feed their oversized manufacturing bases.
In recent years, however, anxiety within the Chinese Communist Party over the security implications of the country's dependence on coastal trade has taken many forms. China's aggressive efforts to modernize its navy and expand energy, resource and infrastructure projects overseas are perhaps its most visible attempts to cope with the geopolitical implications of its economic and energy needs. Xi's tour, along with several other recent events, has highlighted China's enduring need to focus on westward development as well.

Establishing a 'New Border'

Geographically, China consists of three shelves that radiate up and outward from east to west like the steps of an amphitheater. The first and second shelves essentially hover over the Han core, where more than 90 percent of China's roughly 1.3 billion people live. Surrounded by plateaus, mountains, deserts and steppe, the core historically has been vulnerable to attack -- whether from Mongolian horsemen riding down through the Central Eurasian plains, the Manchu descending from Eastern Siberia or the Japanese (in 1592 and again during World War II) through the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria.
Chinese Provinces and Central Asiaclick here for bigger picture.
To defend the Han from overland invasion, successive Chinese dynasties have sought to push the core's boundaries north and west by capturing and pacifying as much of the frontier highlands as possible. As a result, the history of Han China's engagement with the sparsely populated, inhospitable lands on its periphery is defined by cycles of incorporation -- with these regions transformed into protective buffers -- and dispersal, whenever the core has fragmented and lost control of the frontier.
In many ways, Xinjiang represents the outer edge in this pattern. It is far more remote than other traditional buffer regions such as Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. Urumqi, the provincial capital, is more than 3,100 kilometers (1,920 miles) from Beijing, while Kashgar, the westernmost Chinese city and historically a major Silk Road trading hub, is nearly 4,400 kilometers from the coast. Xinjiang has also played a less-prominent role in Chinese history than the other buffer regions. Over the past 2,500 years, the region has broken away from China repeatedly, and it was not fully incorporated into the Chinese empire until the 18th century, taking the name Xinjiang, or "New Border," a century later. China's conquest of Xinjiang under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was in part a response to the rise of Russia as a Eurasian power during the same period. Prior to then, there had been little threat of invasion from Central Asia and hence little reason to formally annex all of Xinjiang.
Moreover, Xinjiang is largely a desert wasteland cleaved in two by the Tianshan Mountains. The majority of its 22 million inhabitants live clustered in one of three sub-regional cores: the Uighur-dominated Tarim Basin to the south (centered in Kashgar), the majority Han Chinese Junggar Basin to the north (home to Urumqi), and the smaller Ili River Valley wedged in between. Today, Xinjiang accounts for 17 percent of China's total landmass -- an area roughly half the size of India -- but less than 2 percent of its population. The physical environment of the region is simply too harsh to support large populations (by Chinese standards), even with modern agricultural and industrial technologies.
 click here for bigger picture.
But Xinjiang is not entirely cursed by geography. It is the only major overland route from China to Central Asia and thus was historically part of the Silk Road trade routes. Long before Xinjiang became a military buffer for China, narrow passageways such as Alashankou, the Dzungarian Gate and the Karakoram Pass along the region's borders with modern-day Kazakhstan and Pakistan shaped its economic, cultural and political identity as a commercial gateway to high-end goods such as silk, jade, spices and precious gems. The importance of trade along the Silk Road ebbed and flowed with changes in the Chinese economy and those of its major trading partners, and it has never accounted for more than a fraction of the Chinese Empire's total economic output. Nonetheless, Xinjiang has long been important as a conduit for facilitating the exchange of ideas and technologies between China and the rest of Eurasia.

Modern Day: Building Trans-Eurasian Ties

In a speech in Astana, the Kazakh capital, on Sept. 7, Xi framed his tour as an effort to create a "Silk Road Economic Belt" through Xinjiang and the Central Asian states it borders, as well as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Talk of re-establishing the historical trade route was promptly echoed by national and regional leaders in Xinjiang, who emphasized the region's unique role as a land bridge to South and Central Asia.
Indeed, Xinjiang's history as a trade route and protective buffer is still shaping Beijing's interests and policies in the region today, especially as the Party looks to expand overland energy and trade ties with Central Asia. For Beijing, the challenges and opportunities presented by Xinjiang are manifold: As an energy transport corridor and resource base, the province will be critical for efforts to industrialize the interior and reduce China's exposure to possible supply disruptions in the South and East China seas. At the same time, Xinjiang's remoteness and terrain, as well as persistent security concerns about the region's restive Uighur Muslim population, will constrain Beijing's most ambitious visions of trans-Eurasian road, rail and pipeline systems.
Nonetheless, there are already an unprecedented number of cross-border projects under various stages of development. Many, such as a proposed agricultural free trade zone along the Xinjiang-Tajikistan border, are small and expected to have a limited long-term impact. Others, such as a long-discussed overland transport corridor linking Kashgar (which was made into a special economic zone in 2010 and has since emerged as a focal point for state-led investment in Xinjiang) with the Chinese-operated Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, could be much more geopolitically significantly, albeit while facing enormous logistical, political and security constraints in the near term.
China's Ambitions in Xinjiang and Central Asia: Part 1click here for bigger picture
One of the most promising developments in overland transport is the China-Europe railway. On July 17, Beijing inaugurated a direct rail line from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province and the largest inland manufacturing base for Taiwanese electronics firm Foxconn, to Hamburg, Germany. Six round trips are expected to be made on the Zhengzhou-Hamburg line in 2013, each one ferrying approximately $1.5 million-worth of mostly electronic goods to Europe. It takes around 21 days to reach the Continent by rail, while seaborne transport between China and Europe takes around five weeks, with much longer average delay times. Transport from inland China to Europe by rail costs approximately 25 percent more than by sea, but for companies such as HP (which has been shipping Chinese-assembled laptops to Europe from its Chongqing factories since 2011) and DHL (which now runs weekly express trains to Europe from Chengdu), the benefits of speed outweigh the extra costs.

Trade Booming, but Challenges Remain

The Chinese and Kazakh governments expect the volume of overland trade through the region to Europe to grow from 2,500 forty-foot equivalent units (a measurement of cargo capacity) this year to 7.5 million by the end of the decade, according to The New York Times. If value grows at the same rate, then overland trade between China and Europe could reach $4.5 billion -- still only a small fraction of overall China-Europe trade, but one that will have tangible benefits in the inland cities most directly affected.
Still, efforts to develop overland transport routes to and through Central Asia will be constrained by distance, terrain and political and security risks -- not only in the Eurasian states that new lines would pass through but within Xinjiang as well. Projects such as the Kashgar-Gwadar corridor will be easy targets for local separatists or jihadist elements with ties to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Xinjiang and Pakistan's Waziristan region. Meanwhile, the China-Europe line will be vulnerable to shifts in Russian policy or in Moscow's relations with other countries along the route, especially Kazakhstan, Belarus and Poland. Similar political, geographic and security challenges will complicate another long-discussed project, the Trans-Asia Railway (known colloquially as the Iron Silk Road) linking China to Europe via the Middle East.
Even if the large-scale development of trans-Eurasian transport links is ultimately constrained, Beijing's support for such projects is telling nonetheless and indicative of China's broader strategic concerns. As a transport corridor, Central Asia is unlikely to ever account for more than 5-7 percent of Chinese-European trade by volume, but it will support the Party's broader goal of curtailing, to whatever extent possible, China's overreliance on sea-lanes in the South and East China Seas. Similar to planned oil and natural gas pipelines that will run from the coast of Myanmar to Yunnan and like the prospective Gwadar-Kashgar transport corridor, overland railways could serve as possible lifelines for arms, munitions and energy in the event of a security crisis on the coast. However remote this possibility, China's leaders are not insensitive to it, especially given the modern legacy of war and invasion from the east.
Next: Part 2 of this series examines more closely Beijing's expansion of energy ties to Central Asia, as well as its efforts to transform Xinjiang into a resource supply hub.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

U.S. and Iranian Realities

By George Friedman
U.S. President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week in the first such conversation in the 34 years since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The phone call followed tweets and public statements on both sides indicating a willingness to talk. Though far from an accommodation between the two countries, there are reasons to take this opening seriously -- not only because it is occurring at such a high level, but also because there is now a geopolitical logic to these moves. Many things could go wrong, and given that this is the Middle East, the odds of failure are high. But Iran is weak and the United States is avoiding conflict, and there are worse bases for a deal.

Iran's Surge

Though the Iranians are now in a weak strategic position, they had been on the offensive since 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. They welcomed the invasion; Saddam Hussein had been a mortal enemy of Iran ever since the 1980-1989 Iran-Iraq War. The destruction of his regime was satisfying in itself, but it also opened the door to a dramatic shift in Iran's national security situation.
Iraq was Iran's primary threat after the collapse of the Soviet Union because it was the only direction from which an attack might come. A pro-Iranian or even neutral Iraq would guarantee Iranian national security. The American invasion created a power vacuum in Iraq that the U.S. Army could not fill. The Iranians anticipated this, supporting pro-Iranian elements among the Shia prior to 2003 and shaping them into significant militias after 2003. With the United States engaged in a war against Sunni insurgents, the Shia, already a majority, moved to fill the void.
The United States came to realize that it was threatened from two directions, and it found itself battling both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. The purpose of the surge in 2007 was to extricate itself from the war with the Sunnis and to block the Shia. It succeeded with the former to a great extent, but it was too late in the game for the latter. As the United States was withdrawing from Iraq, only the Shia (not all of them Iranian surrogates) could fill the political vacuum. Iran thus came to have nothing to fear from Iraq, and could even dominate it. This was a tremendous strategic victory for Iran, which had been defeated by Iraq in 1989.
After the Iranians made the most of having the United States, focused on the Sunnis, open the door for Iran to dominate Iraq, a more ambitious vision emerged in Tehran. With Iraq contained and the United States withdrawing from the region, Saudi Arabia emerged as Iran's major challenger. Tehran now had the pieces in place to challenge Riyadh.
Iran was allied with Syria and had a substantial pro-Iranian force in Lebanon -- namely, Hezbollah. The possibility emerged in the late 2000s of an Iranian sphere of influence extending from western Afghanistan's Shiite communities all the way to the Mediterranean. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had fairly realistic visions of Iranian power along Saudi Arabia's northern border, completely changing the balance of power in the region.
But while Syrian President Bashar al Assad was prepared to align himself with Iran, he initially had no interest in his country's becoming an Iranian satellite. In fact, he was concerned at the degree of power Iran was developing. The Arab Spring and the uprising against al Assad changed this equation. Before, Syria and Iran were relative equals. Now, al Assad desperately needed Iranian support. This strengthened Tehran's hand, since if Iran saved al Assad, he would emerge weakened and frightened, and Iranian influence would surge.
The Russians also liked the prospect of a strengthened Iran. First, they were fighting Sunnis in the northern Caucasus. They feared the strengthening of radical Sunnis anywhere, but particularly in the larger Sunni-dominated republics in Russia. Second, an Iranian sphere of influence not only would threaten Saudi Arabia, it also would compel the United States to re-engage in the region to protect Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Russians had enjoyed a relatively free hand since 2001 while the Americans remained obsessed with the Islamic world. Creating a strategic crisis for the United States thus suited Moscow's purposes. The Russians, buffered from Iran by the Caucasus states, were not frightened by the Iranians. They were therefore prepared to join Iran insupporting the al Assad regime.
The problem was that al Assad could not impose his will on Syria. He did not fall, but he also couldn't win. A long-term civil war emerged, and while the Iranians had influence among the Alawites, the stalemate undermined any dream of an Iranian sphere of influence reaching the Mediterranean. This became doubly true when Sunni resistance to the Shia in Iraq grew. The Syrian maneuver required a decisive and rapid defeat of the Sunni insurgents in Syria. That didn't happen, and the ability of the Shiite regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to resist the Sunnis was no longer guaranteed.

Iranian Ambitions Decline

In 2009, it had appeared extremely likely that an Iran loosely aligned with Russia would enjoy a sphere of influence north of Saudi Arabia. By 2013, this vision was shattered, and with it the more grandiose strategic vision of Ahmadinejad and his allies in Iran. This led to a re-evaluation of Iran's strategic status -- and of the value of its nuclear program.
It was Stratfor's view that Iran had less interest in actually acquiring a nuclear weapon than in having a program to achieve one. Possessing a handful of nuclear weapons would be a worst-case scenario for Iran, as it might compel massive attacks from Israel or the United States that Iran could not counter. But having a program to develop one, and making it credible, gave the Iranians a powerful bargaining chip and diverted U.S. and Israeli attention from the growing Iranian sphere of influence. Ahmadinejad's hope, I think, was to secure this sphere of influence, have the basis for making demands on the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council, and trade the nuclear program for U.S. recognition and respect for the new regional balance. Indeed, while the United States and Israel were obsessed with the Iranian bomb, the Iranians were making major strides in developing more conventional power.
Iran's regional strategy was in shambles, and the international sanctions its nuclear program triggered began to have some significant effect. I am unable to determine whether Iran's economic crisis derived from the sanctions or whether it derived from a combination of the global economic crisis and Iran's own economic weakness. But in the end, the perception that the sanctions had wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy turned the nuclear program, previously useful, into a liability.
Iran found itself in a very difficult position. Internally, opposition to any accommodation with the United States was strong. But so was the sense that Ahmadinejad had brought disaster on Iran strategically and economically. For Iran, the nuclear program became increasingly irrelevant. The country was not going to become a regional power. It now had to go on the defensive, stabilize Iraq and, more important, address its domestic situation.

The U.S. Challenge

There is profound domestic opposition in the United States to dealing with the Iranian regime. Just as the Iranians still genuinely resent the 1953 coup that placed the shah on the throne, the Americans have never forgotten the seizure of the U.S. Embassy and the subsequent yearlong hostage crisis. We must now wait and see what language Iran will craft regarding the hostage crisis to reciprocate the courtesy of Obama's acknowledging the 1953 coup.
The United States is withdrawing from the Middle East to the extent it can. Certainly, it has no interest in another ground war. It has interests in the region, however, and chief among those are avoiding the emergence of a regional hegemon that might destabilize the Middle East. The United States also learned in Iraq that simultaneously fighting Sunnis and Shia pits the United States against forces it cannot defeat without major effort. It needs a way to manage the Islamic world without being in a constant state of war.
The classic solution to this is to maintain a balance of power with minimal force based on pre-existing tensions. A weakened Iran needs support in its fight with the Sunnis. The United States is interested in ensuring that neither the Sunni nor the Shia win -- in other words, in the status quo of centuries. Having Iran crumble internally therefore is not in the American interest, since it would upset the internal balance. While sanctions were of value in blocking Iranian ascendancy, in the current situation stabilizing Iran is of greater interest.
The United States cannot proceed unless the nuclear program is abandoned. Rouhani understands that, but he must have and end to sanctions and a return of Western investment to Iran in exchange. These are doable under the current circumstances. The question of Iranian support for al Assad is not really an issue; the United States does not want to see a Syrian state dominated by radical Sunnis. Neither does Iran. Tehran would like a Syria dominated by al Assad, but Iran realizes that it has played that card and lost. The choices are partition, coalition or war -- neither Iran nor the United States is deeply concerned with which.

Threats to a Resolution

There are two threats to a potential resolution. The primary threat is domestic. In both countries, even talking to each other seems treasonous to some. In Iran, economic problems and exhaustion with grandiosity opens a door. In the United States right now, war is out of the question. And that paves the way to deals unthinkable a few years ago.
A second threat is outside interference. Israel comes to mind, though for Israel, the removal of the nuclear program would give them something they were unable to achieve themselves. The Israelis argued that the Iranian bomb was an existential threat to Israel. But the Israelis lack the military power to deal with it themselves, and they could not force the Americans into action. This is the best deal they can get if they actually feared an Iranian bomb. Though Israel's influence on this negotiation with Iran will face limits with the U.S. administration, Israel will make an effort to insert itself in the process and push its own demands on what constitutes an acceptable Iranian concession.
Saudi Arabia meanwhile will be appalled at a U.S.-Iranian deal. Hostility toward Iran locked the United States into place in support of the Saudis. But the United States is now flush with oil, and Saudi attempts to block reconciliation will not meet a warm reception. The influence of Saudi Arabia in Washington has waned considerably since the Iraq war.
The Russian position will be more interesting. On the surface, the Russians have been effective in Syria. But that's only on the surface. The al Assad regime wasn't bombed, but it remains crippled. And the Syrian crisis revealed a reality the Russians didn't like: If Obama had decided to attack Syria, there was nothing the Russians could have done about it. They have taken a weak hand and played it as cleverly as possible. But it is still a weak hand. The Russians would have liked having the United States bogged down containing Iran's influence, but that isn't going to happen, and the Russians realize that ultimately they lack the weight to make it happen. Syria was a tactical victory for them; Iran would be a strategic defeat.
The Iranian and American realities argue for a settlement. The psyche of both countries is in the balance. There is clearly resistance in both, yet it does not seem strong enough or focused enough to block it. That would seem to indicate speed rather than caution. But of course, getting it done before anyone notices isn't possible. And so much can go wrong here that all of this could become moot. But given how the Iranians and Americans see their positions, the odds are, that something will happen. In my book, The Next Decade, I argued that in the long run Iran and the United States have aligning interests and that an informal alliance is likely in the long run. This isn't the long run yet, and the road will be bumpy, but the logic is there.

Read more: U.S. and Iranian Realities | Stratfor
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