The Commonalities Between Obama and Bush

In an insightful OpEd, “What Eisenhower Could Teach Obama,” Melvin Goodman, an ex-CIA functionary and a former Professor at the National War College, pointed out the difficulty of current presidents in dealing with the military, because most presidents come to office with no background or knowledge about the U.S. military.  He compared the almost encyclopedic knowledge about the military that President Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower brought to the office – because he himself was a professional soldier – with a number of recent presidents, especially President Barack Obama, who has no knowledge of the military culture and the military frame of mind.  In his farewell address to the nation, Ike rightly warned the nation of the dangers of allowing a military-industrial- complex (MIC) to take the control of the United States.    

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Replacing the Current AfPak Strategy with a New One

With the firing of General Stanley McChrystal, President Barack Obama appears to be writing his own edition of “lessons in disaster,” a book of the same title that he so publicly read and supposedly drew lessons from before committing 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. One wonders whether he knows it, but Afghanistan is increasingly looking like a disastrous place for his administration as long as he sticks to the current AfPak strategy.

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A New Strategy or Following Your Own Advice

As President Barack H. Obama is edging toward making up his mind about accepting, partially accepting, or not accepting General Stanley McChrystal’s advice to insert more troops in Afghanistan, I hear an abundance of metaphors flying.  One metaphor was used by the candidate Obama himself during the presidential campaign, when he described starting the war in Iraq to driving a bus into ditch.  That metaphor is being reprinted (recently by the New York Times).  Rory Stewart, a Professor at Harvard and an opponent of the option of increasing the troops, is using the metaphor “driving off a cliff.”  Steven Biddle, a Fellow at CFR, calls it “a war that is worth waging, but only barely.” John Nagle, who built his reputation by being one of General David Petraeus’ assistants, and a person whose doctoral dissertation was on counterinsurgency (and a very good read), calls the war in Afghanistan “a better war.”  The debate within the Principals Committee in the White House is reported to be waging along the lines of COIN or counterterrorism.

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Turbulent Aspects of A Proposed “Grand Bargain”

The Indian Press was recently full of stories that Chinese naval officials have proposed to Admiral Timothy J. Keating, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) that the two countries ought to divide the world oceans into two camps: China would take Hawaii West and Indian Ocean and the U.S. would be in charge of Hawaii East. The Chinese officials were reported to have told their American counterparts “… you will not need to come to the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean and we will not need to go to the Eastern Pacific. If anything happens there, you can let us know and if something happens here, we will let you know.” Admiral Keating shared that story with the Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, in the context of China’s high interest in developing aircraft carriers.
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The Vietnam Syndrome is Dead–Long Live…

As the Obama administration ponders America’s warfighting strategy for Afghanistan, there are muted comparisons between the current U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and its involvement in South Vietnam in the 1960s. Given that the United States was defeated in South Vietnam, such comparison serves as an added burden for the mandarins of America’s national security strategy, both in the White House and the Pentagon.
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While Iran Awaits Another Revolutionary Change

There is something about revolutionary change that keeps us from recognizing it while it is happening.  Only when it picks up its pace beyond control that we wake up from our slumber of ignorance and recognize that something really “big” is either happening or about to happen.  Such is the case in Iran today.


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The Obama Factor and the World of Islam

President Barack H. Obama spoke to the Muslim world from Cairo on June 4, 2009.  Symbolically, that day will always be remembered every time someone raises the issue of the United States’ relations toward the world of Islam.  The following statement he made that day will go down in history as a memorable one:  The United States is “not and never will be, at war with Islam.”  He made the same statement for the first time in Turkey two months prior.


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The Shia-Sunni Power Play in the Middle East

The continuing public spat between Hezbollah and Arab states is a mixture of old and new styles of power play.  The “old” part implicitly involves Iran–the chief supporter of Hezbollah–while the new aspect of this power play is between the antiquated monarchies and the nexus between Iran and Hezbollah.  Iran is the “rising power” of the Middle East, while the Sunni Arab states belong to the category of “declining” powers.  Hezbollah’s status will be determined most significantly after the impending elections in Lebanon.  As an example of how the U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East is more of an expression of continuity than change (despite President Barack H. Obama’s rhetoric of “change’) Vice President Biden was dispatched to Lebanon to influence the outcome of the Lebanese elections, an action that is likely to backfire and, in the process, only enhance the political clout of Hezbollah. 


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The Fledgling Obama Doctrine

President Barack H. Obama has been in office only a few months, but the talk of a fledgling “Obama doctrine” is getting popular.   If there is such a thing as the Obama doctrine in the realm of foreign policy, it involves a number of characteristics.  These comprise breaking away from George W. Bush’s failed policies but maintaining linkages with a few successful ones; opening new foreign policy fronts with regimes that Bush loved to scorn; and, above all, attaching primacy to pragmatism.  There is no guarantee that Obama will be successful in all these categories.  What is important is that he has remarkably transformed America’s image abroad.  That should be a good basis for pursuing progress on an ever-increasing list of ostensibly obdurate global problems.

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Slaying the Beast Called the “Clash of Civilizations”

President Barack H. Obama’s campaign slogans of “a time for a change” and “yes we can” are filtering into his speeches and his actions toward the world of Islam.  He is serious about bringing an end to the poisonous frame of reference that the concept of “the clash of civilizations” presents for Muslims.  In this sense, he is busy slaying the beast that that idea has become in the past fifteen or more years.  President Obama’s interview with al-Arabiyya soon after he entered the White House, his message to the Iranian people on the day of the Nowroze (Iranian New Year), and his trip to Turkey were the most credible examples of that reality.  However, Obama’s battle with the beast is challenging and does not guarantee a victory at this point.


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