Student Blog – Ryan Cross | Sun & Star Symposium: Waiting for the Rising Sun

Report: Keynote Speech by Richard Armitage

SunandStar2015Ambassador Richard L. Armitage delivered the keynote speech at the opening dinner of the Sun & Star Symposium 2015, hosted by SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies. Highlights of his long career in public service include a five-year stint as Deputy Secretary of State, the role of Special Emissary to Jordan during the Gulf War, and various positions in the Department of Defense. These high-level roles are compounded with his on-the-ground experiences during his three tours of duty in Vietnam, time as Defense Attaché to the Republic of Vietnam, and key role in orchestrating the evacuation of over 30,000 South Vietnamese by boat to the Philippines after the fall of Saigon. Drawing on this political gravitas, Armitage delivered a clear message regarding the future of American foreign policy by exploring the history of American involvement in the Middle East and Asia during his time working in various positions in the US government. In particular, he focused on relations with Japan, China, and South Korea. His remarks addressed the conference’s theme, “Waiting for the Rising Sun: Japanese New Nationalism and Beyond,” and also clarified his claim that President Obama’s current pivot of focus from the Middle East to Asia has been undertaken too hastily. As such, he contends that America needs to develop cultural and economic ties, not just our security interests in the region.

Armitage outlined numerous problems like the ceaseless conflicts in the Middle East which have hindered the successful pivot of the focus of American foreign policy to Asia. He highlighted the importance of changing focus on the basis of Asia’s growing importance, not because American wishes to exit Afghanistan and Iraq. He focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a key next step for American foreign policy makers. When questioned about his views on the TPP, Armitage identified the present need for a tighter alliance between America and its partners in the region. According to this logic, when the US and Japan agree on the numerous points of debate, other major players like Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and New Zealand will enter into the agreement. As such, the economic successes of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be replicable on a larger scale throughout the Pacific region.

Because, as Armitage said, “… a coalition of Asian nations cannot stand up to China without the United States,” President Obama and his successors ought to curate US influence in the region to curb the oversized growth of China. He contended that President Obama should start by urging the closer collaboration of South Korea and Japan, America’s foremost Asian partners. While decades of detrimental actions from all sides like the Japanese treatment of South Korea during its occupation in the Second World War have led the present animosity between Tokyo and Seoul, goals like competing with China’s growing economic dominance and containing North Korea provide common ground over which South Korea and Japan can form the missing piece of the strong triangular relationship between these two players and the US. Accordingly, Japan’s current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, must resist the newly-emerging nationalist sentiments in his country, lest the improvement of their relation with South Korea regress.

Looking to the future, Armitage called for the deliberate strengthening of US relations with its partners in East Asia, the most critical being Japan. He stated that the US-Japan relationship not only holds significance for its established economic and cultural ties, but for the critical role Japan plays in the American defense strategy. Japan fits into current American grand strategy because of its hosting of enormous US military bases in a region critical to numerous American goals like the protection of our commercial interests and our Asian allies. As evidence that the US-Japan military relationship will continue to strengthen, he cited a recent joint training exercise by the US Marine Corps and the Japan Self-Defense Forces which “… had retaking an island as its unclassified, stated objective.” China and other potentially threatening nations in Asia will likely view these exercises as a declaration by the US that it will not sit by if Chinese forces invade the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. This thorough training acts as an unfortunate, but altogether necessary contingency for the Japanese and American governments in light of recently-increasing tensions over these numerous small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Abe and President Obama are thereby in agreement concerning the importance and validity of the Japanese claim.

While the heated military realities concerning the aforementioned island dispute might result in direct confrontation, Armitage called attention to a far-more preferable alternative. He said that “… territories cannot be shared, but resources can be.” The oil deposits in the waters of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are the fundamental reason for the three-way conflict between Japan, China, and Taiwan, but also provide a solution. The development and employment of this windfall of natural resources would benefit the three energy-hungry players who all claim a stake in the territory. While acknowledging the emotional and historical tensions between these Asian neighbors, Armitage claimed that the way forward consists of poly-lateral development of relations, as opposed to the current trend whereby every major Asian player closely cultivates their direct relationship with America, but do not extend the same desire for positive expansion to their relationships with each other.

In summation, Armitage recognized the significant barriers to the creation of stronger political, military, and economic ties between America and the major Asian players, but set out his optimistic thoughts for the future. Many of the countries involved share identical interests such as the fostering of higher levels of trade with the United States. He identified the President as uniquely situated as the power-broker of East Asia thanks to the long-standing utmost importance of American business and military investments in the region. As such, he predicts a bright future assuming the President slows his haste to pivot to Asia, and that America can wield its sizable power skillfully.

Ryan_CrossRyan is a first-year from Wilton, Connecticut and is majoring in political science and international studies with minors in Spanish and history. At SMU, he is a member of the University Honors Program, the Hilltop Scholars Program, the Career Development Ambassadors, and the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Ryan plans to pursue a career with the US government after graduation.

Yuval Weber | Why the U.S. does nothing in Ukraine

This news story first appeared on March 18, 2015. For more information, click here.

Tower Center Associate, Yuval Weber is an assistant professor in the Department of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia.

Why the U.S. does nothing in Ukraine

By Yuval Weber, The Washington Post; March 18, 2015

The ongoing war in Ukraine recently passed the first anniversary of the highly dubious referendum that split Crimea off from Ukraine and eventually saw it attached to Russia. Over the course of the conflict that followed, over 6,000 people have died, large swathes of eastern Ukraine have been destroyed, and Russian support for separatists rendered insecure by the change of government in Kiev has gone from highly suspected to fairly open. Reaction in Washington has been equally vitriolic with politicians and commentators pushing for President Obama either to escalate the challenge to Russia by providing greater amounts of military aid to Ukraine more quickly or to come to some sort of great power accommodation instead, effectively ceding a low-importance country in exchange for an end to the conflict to a much more resolved adversary. Recent expert interviews conducted by my colleague Andrej Krickovic and I here in Moscow on Russian strategic interests, and insights derived from the bargaining theory of conflict, suggest that the current policy – doing little at the cost of watching the collateral damage rise – may best fulfill U.S. foreign policy interests by refusing to give Russia the fight it wants at the time and issue of the latter’s choosing.

For a recent paper, Krickovic and I interviewed a number of foreign policy experts here in Moscow to understand the extent of Russian strategic interests. The interview subjects clearly indicated that the war in Ukraine is a symptom of greater dissatisfaction with the post-Cold War international order. As Evgeny Lukyanov, the Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, has said, “We need to sit down [with the United States] and renegotiate the entire post-cold War settlement.” The experts further stated that the potential loss of Ukraine directly threatens Russia’s ability to pursue Eurasian integration, which is central to the country’s larger strategic vision of developing a Eurasian bloc (through bolstering the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization) to resist the consequences of U.S. unipolarity and to compete in the multipolar world it expects to emerge.

In terms set out by our interviewees, Russia seeks a “grand bargain” that explicitly identifies the role of the United States in the international order and puts limits on U.S. behavior to make America more predictable in its behavior and to prevent it from overstepping its own authority. Three tenets of this bargain that would assure Russian security include a collective security treaty binding Russia, the United States, and the leading European states; a supranational decision-making body (Security Council of Europe of NATO, the European Union, and CSTO) as previously proposed by Dmitry Medvedev that would end NATO dominance in Europe; and a “Monroe Doctrine” for the post-Soviet space that legitimizes a sphere of influence in the region. These ideas follow along Vladimir Putin’s “collective leadership” offer at the latest Valdai meeting: a new world order based on competing hierarchies of states, mutual non-interference in spheres of interest, and coordinated responses to transnational problems of mutual interest, such as Islamist terrorism. Eventually, all these institutional developments would lead to an “integration of integrations” so that a bigger EEU could associate with the European Union and other Western institutions as a full-fledged partner enjoying the same status as these powerful institutions.

These terms set out exactly why Russia is motivated to fight over the resolution of Ukraine now rather than later. By Russia’s own bloc-oriented view of the future of international relations, the failure to “get” Ukraine means that the Eurasian bloc has roughly reached its apex (Kyrgyzstan will accede in May 2015 while other regional states are seemingly getting cold feet). Facing a negative shift in future bargaining power means that it should fight now before it gets too weak in the future to mount a credible challenge to revise the international order later.

This very well explains what Russia is doing, but how can we explain Obama’s reluctance either to commit greater resources to the conflict or to cut bait and leave? Why has Obama settled on a policy of seemingly strenuous inaction? It is very likely that Obama can observe that Russia’s bloc-oriented strategy has led to the same apex, and that future decline by Russia’s own standards is approaching. Thus, to accommodate Russia in this bargaining framework would not only involve upsetting European allies and the Ukrainians, but would give a lifeline to an adversary by ameliorating the decline. Moreover, to challenge Russia over Ukraine would be to escalate a conflict that the United States is less able and less resolved to win with acceptable costs.

This places Obama in a different position relative to formulating strategy regarding a rising challenger like China that needs to be accommodated or challenged because the latter is dissatisfied with the international distribution of benefits. Russia is instead a declining challenger (by its own standards) that offers the United States a third policy course of maintaining the status quo and waiting to negotiate later from a position of greater strength. If Obama believes that Russia has internal structural contradictions (resource-dominated economy) and is externally at its peak, then he finds himself roughly in the same position as Dwight Eisenhower roughly 60 years ago: confident of prevailing in a long war or arms racing against an adversary with internal structural contradictions (command economy), but wary of entering into short-term conflicts close to Russia. Just as Eisenhower failed to intervene in Hungary in 1956, Obama is failing to intervene decisively in Ukraine and giving Russia a fight at the latter’s time and place of choosing.

The policy of strenuous inaction of helping Ukraine to prevent collapse but insufficiently strongly to avoid challenging Russia runs the risk of allowing events on the ground to run away from the United States and opens up Obama to considerable domestic and international criticism, but it may leave the United States in a much stronger position vis-à-vis Russia later on – even at the cost of death and destruction in Ukraine and the precipitous decline of bilateral relations.

The U.S. just leaked its war plan in Iraq. Why?

This news story first appeared on February 27, 2015 . For more information, click here.

By Joshua Rovner and Caitlin Talmadge, The Washington Post

Joshua Rovner is the John Goodwin Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security. He is the author of Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence (Cornell University Press, 2011).

Last week U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) gave a remarkably detailed press briefing about its intended late spring offensive to drive the Islamic State out of the critical Iraqi city of Mosul. Critics immediately jumped on CENTCOM and the Obama administration for telegraphing its intended operations to the enemy. In an open letter to the president, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) warned that the “disclosures not only risk the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces.”

Whether one agrees with McCain and Graham or not, the CENTCOM disclosures certainly were odd. Military officers are typically loathe to provide specific details of future campaigns. So why did CENTCOM broadcast its plans?

According to one report, U.S. officials wanted to warn the estimated 1,500-2,000 Islamic State fighters in Mosul that they would soon face an onslaught from 25,000 or more coalition personnel, including five Iraqi army brigades and three Kurdish Pershmerga brigades, all backed by U.S. airpower, intelligence, and advising. Perhaps Islamic State fighters would retreat rather than stand and defend their de facto capital in Iraq, thereby saving a great deal of blood and treasure for everyone concerned.

This rationale is at odds with other U.S. activities in Iraq, however. While advisers have been training Iraqi troops, and planning (and advertising) the impending Mosul offensive, coalition air forces have stepped up bombing in and around the city. If the goal is to encourage the militants to flee, we might expect U.S. officials to allow a safe exit route. But bombing may send exactly the opposite message: it tells the fighters that if they try to flee the city they will exposed to massive U.S. airpower. If anything, the air campaign could encourage them to hunker down and strengthen their defenses.

So what’s really going on? First, the Islamic State may not be the intended audience of the U.S. messages. It knows a fight is coming—the fall of Mosul galvanized the U.S. return to Iraq last summer, after all—so it probably won’t make a tremendous difference whether the group expects the fight in May or some other time. The need to defend Mosul is likely something that the Islamic State has already factored into its plans. And given the notoriously poor operational security of the Iraqi Army, the chances of keeping secret any Iraqi-led campaign were poor anyway.

Instead, the United States may be speaking more to its coalition partners and Iraqi counterparts than to the Islamic State. We can only guess as to the dynamics behind closed doors, but coalition partners might be holding back their own military contributions and political support amid doubts about U.S. and Iraqi resolve to wrest control of the region from the Islamist militants. Iraqi forces also might doubt U.S. willingness to support them in any planned offensives. Or they might prefer to first contest Islamic State control of western Iraq rather than the north. The United States might be trying to signal its own trustworthiness as a partner, stiffen the backs of unmotivated Iraqi forces, create a fait accompli with regards to campaign planning, or some combination of the above. In short, it may be aiming its communications at targets other than the Islamic State.

One can also sense a sort of “heads we win, tails you lose” logic to the U.S. public messages about Mosul. If the Islamic State forces uncharacteristically flee without a fight, they will face humiliation and a setback to their claims of control in Iraq. That’s a win, at least operationally, for Washington and Baghdad. Conversely, if the Islamic State decides to stand its ground and starts trying to flow reinforcements to Mosul in preparation for the defense of the city, that could be a good thing operationally, too. These forces will be highly vulnerable to the stepped-up coalition air attacks, which are already seriously threatening the militants’ lifeline between Raqqa and Mosul. Sending reinforcements to Mosul will also draw Islamic State resources away from Syria, where the coalition’s ability to fight is much more constrained, and into Iraq, where that ability is more robust.

Whatever the rationale behind the U.S. statements, the overall plan to retake Mosul carries serious tactical and strategic risks. These risks exist whether CENTCOM releases a trailer for the campaign or not. Urban combat is costly—even if you win. The United States knows this from its own history in cities such as Hue during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War. The Iraqis know it from their history, too, such as the battles for Khorramshahr and Basra during the war with Iran. And the more recent experience of Fallujah is in the living memory of many soldiers from both Iraq and the United States.

In Mosul these forces will be inviting battle against extremely motivated Islamic State troops with all the advantages of being on the defense, including knowledge of the terrain, control of the local population, and the use of that population as a giant civilian shield. It’s great to “want Mosul to look a lot more like the liberation of Paris than Stalingrad,” but it is important to remember that that “easy” liberation came more than two years after the horrendous battle at Stalingrad, which lasted five months and caused over a million casualties. The march into Paris was only possible because of the staggering losses the German army suffered on the Eastern front.

Moreover, because the Islamic State is likely to be isolated with little chance of escape, it may fight with special ferocity. Sun Tzu famously noted that soldiers fight hardest when they are on “death ground,” which is part of the reason he advised leaders to avoid sieges. Meanwhile Iraqi forces will mostly be Shiites and Kurds, seeking to take back a Sunni city. A cynic might point out that they are being asked to die for territory belonging to the very sectarian rivals they fought over the last decade before the Islamic State appeared. Whether their cohesion holds and whether Sunnis welcome them as liberators are big question marks.

If the answer to either question is no, pressure for U.S. escalation will be intense, and the Obama administration may be tempted to increase the direct U.S. combat role. Ironically, what looks like an approach to bloodless victory with Iraqis in the lead, might end up with U.S. troops involved in enduring offensive ground operations.

Does Dallas Need a Mayoral Election This Year?

This blog post first appeared on February 26, 2015. For more information, click here.

Tower Center Associate, Edward T. Rincon is President of Rincón & Associates LLC.

It’s an odd question to ask indeed, but perhaps not so odd if you have kept up with recent news stories about this year’s Dallas mayoral election. Several recent stories in the Dallas Morning News, for example, continue to praise Mayor Rawlings for the programs that have been initiated during his tenure as Mayor of Dallas, and his campaign fundraising success in comparison to his one challenger, Marcos Ronquillo. The DMN has made no secret about its love affair with Mayor Rawlings, and that a second term would be a piece of cake for the mayor.

But the stories did not stop there. One rather bold DMN columnist stated that “Marcos Ronquillo has a zero chance of being elected” as mayor of Dallas. Yet another story announcing Ronquillo’s candidacy for mayor was placed next to the Obituary section of the DMN.  Of course, this was probably just a coincidence.

While it may be obvious to the Dallas Morning News staff that Mike Rawlings is destined to win the next mayoral election, I believe that Dallasites are smart enough to make up their own minds about who our next mayor should be. With voter turnout rates at historic lows, it doesn’t make sense to discourage voter participation by telling voters that the mayoral election is a done deal.

The voting public needs to understand what the mayoral candidates have in mind for improving the quality of life for City residents. The subjective opinions of media pundits should not substitute for a series of well-planned public debates that would require the candidates to address important issues in their own words. Once scheduled, the candidates should embrace the challenge and not avoid open debate.

Following are a few questions and issues that I would personally enjoy hearing the candidates address in a public debate:

Trinity Tollway: Is there any scientific evidence that Dallas needs the Trinity tollway as a transportation solution? Are there any scientific polls that tell us whether Dallas residents favor or oppose this tollway? Wouldn’t it make better sense to first upgrade our local streets, bridges and highways which are suffering from a lack of maintenance and increasing traffic?

Education: Mayor Rawlings stated in a recent DMN story that Dallasites “do not value education.”  What evidence allows you to make such a profound statement? How does this conclusion fit your role as the self-proclaimed “Education Mayor?”

Poverty and Unemployment:  Efforts to remediate poverty and unemployment often focus on helping people improve their job skills, business plans or personal skills. However, poverty and unemployment also result directly from the loss of millions of contract dollars that leave the City of Dallas every year to companies located outside of the City of Dallas. These lost dollars contribute nothing to our local economy. Moreover, the City’s poverty rate is among the highest in the nation. As mayor, what plans do you have for awarding more contracts to local business firms and bringing more jobs to City residents?

Fundraising Roadblocks: Current City policy places a $5,000 cap on the amount of funds that a mayoral candidate can raise from any one donor, although the policy does not apply to the incumbent mayor. This policy clearly gives the incumbent mayor a decided advantage in fundraising. How does an incumbent mayor justify accepting donations larger than $5,000 when it clearly creates an uneven playing field for other candidates?

Of course, the notion of not having a mayoral election this year is ridiculous. But equally ridiculous are efforts by the media that discourage voter participation by suggesting that the election outcome has already been determined and that some candidates have a zero chance of being elected. Perhaps the media pundits can find something more useful to do with their time rather than discouraging voters from participating in important elections.

25 Years of McCuistion: A Brief History of Immigration

This news story first appeared on February 16, 2015 . For more information, click here.

Tower Center Associate, Neil Foley is the Robert H. and Nancy Dedman Chair in History at SMU.

The history of immigration in the United States is the topic of today’s discussion. Ironically even though the United States is a nation of immigrants, immigration has been a controversial issue from its very beginnings.

Click here to watch the video

The immigration debate is again heating up as a result of President Obama’s executive actions as they relate to immigration. Recent news headlines report that 26 states filed a lawsuit to stop President Obama’s executive actions that would allow approximately 4.9 million eligible, undocumented immigrants to temporarily avoid deportation by applying for deferred action programs, namely the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). The suit was initiated by then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has since become the state’s governor.

On the first of our 25th anniversary programs, host, Dennis McCuistion, is joined in part one of a three part series titled A Brief History of Immigration,  by experts:

While discussing the history of immigration in the United States, our guests take us back in time to the making of our present policies and their colorful evolution. At the start of this country U.S. migration went from East to West. Westward migration expanded into Kentucky and the 1803 Louisiana Purchase pitted us directly against the Spanish Empire. There was a south to north Spanish immigration into Texas, which began  causing conflict as early as the 1820’s . The U.S. intended to own America from east coast to west coast.

We’re  reminded  of the various immigration acts,  their outcomes and challenges. At one time Mexicans were not considered immigrants, with families living on both sides of the border. The 1917 Immigration Act called for a head tax and a literacy test, partly to keep Asians, primarily Chinese from immigrating. The 1924 National Origins put quotas on SE Europeans, Irish and Italians, Poles and Slavs. Many of these acts have failed.

It’s no surprise that our guests tell us we keep repeating the same old story. We have border enforcement, which is still not secure, and the same fears of immigrants taking jobs away from citizens.

Join us this week as we talk about our country’s origins and the peoples who have made this country a great one in a Brief History of Immigration.

Thanks for joining us in our 25th year of talking about things that matter with people who really care.

Click here to watch the video

25 Years of McCuistion: Immigration Policy from 1990-2015

This news story first appeared on February 16, 2015 . For more information, click here.

Tower Center Senior Fellow, Pia M. Orrenius is Vice President and Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Immigration policy is the subject of this McCuistion Program episode. Joining host, Dennis McCuistion, to continue the Immigration question on part two of our three part series are guests:

  • Richard A. Gump Jr. PC, Owner:  Immigration Law
  • Pia Orrenius PhD, – V.P. and Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
    Adjunct Professor, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University
    Author of Beside the Golden Door: U.S. Immigration Reform in a New Era of Globalization,
  • Hipolito Acosta- Former District Director U.S. Citizenship and Immigration, Houston
    Author of The Shadow Catcher

Immigration is part of the founding myth of the United States which has gone through several immigration waves in its short history. Its first; the founding colonial wave, which was largely English. Since, we’ve had the primarily German/Irish wave of 1820-1870 with German immigration the largest to date, comprising 15% of all our immigration. The third wave took place from the 19th century to World War I. Today we’re in our fourth wave.

Click here to watch the video

Immigration policy has become ever more complex; as a human rights issue, jobs and economic issue, welfare issue, a cultural and a national security issue. Despite the succession of laws it still remains problematic. A 1986 law gave 3 million undocumented aliens some legalized status and had provisions to fine employers who abused the system by employing undocumented aliens.

A 1990 law expanded the number of family based visas that were being issued and resulted in the highest rate of immigrants in decades- 10-11 million people. Another law in 1996 added reinforcement provisions, more benefits were granted; even more enforcement to authorities and considerably more resources along our borders. Still illegal immigration continues; the complexity increases and our policies are still deficient.

When speaking of immigration policy, our experts challenge us to  remember why so many people immigrate to the United States, in spite of the obstacles put in their way. The answer is partly opportunity – and economic and other freedoms.  Research shows that it’s high skilled immigration which has the highest payoff for our economy. Still, as always there’s demand and supply so programs that work need to be in place to bring both the highly skilled and not so skilled into the United States, albeit  legally.

Is there one solution to our immigration policy dilemma? Secure borders, enforce the law, strong interior enforcement? The U.S. needs more comprehensive laws and  better enforcement. President Obama’s executive order helps families and offers employer reforms but is that enough to resolve the growing issue?

It’s a lively discussion on immigration policy and we go back several years with excerpts from previous programs on immigration, which include comments from: Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, James F. Hollifield, PhD, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Tower Center of Political Studies at SMU and “Tom” Tancredo, former congressman, Colorado, (R).

Thanks for joining us in our 25th year of talking about things that matter with people who really care.

Click here to watch the video


Joshua Rovner | The Foreign Policy Essay: Hidden Victories

This news story first appeared on February 8, 2015 . For more information, click here.

Joshua Rovner is the John Goodwin Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security. He is the author of Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence (Cornell University Press, 2011).

DSC_7285President Obama fails all the time. That is the verdict of the op-ed pages, at least. His foreign policy is a muddle. His decisions to exit from Afghanistan and Iraq were disastrously premature. His responses to terrorism, Syria, Iran, and Russia revealed weakness. His response to the rise of China is a massive failure based on wishful thinking. America’s standing in the world is in steep decline because of all these errors.

Of course, the situation was no better in the last administration. Our summary judgment about President Bush is more or less summarized in the titles of two popular books from the time: Hubris and Fiasco. Our summary judgment of President Clinton was that he lacked any conception of grand strategy, concentrated on domestic policy at the expense of foreign affairs, and otherwise took a “holiday from history.” And we can go back much further. Indeed, read the news from any era and you may get the feeling that the United States is incapable of coherent foreign policy, that it is devoid of serious strategic thinkers, and that its whole history is a depressing catalog of blunders. Yet somehow we ended up as the world’s most prosperous and powerful country.

To be clear, the United States is certainly capable of blunders. Americans frequently misunderstand foreign crises but plow into them nonetheless. They are also capable of nationalist back-slapping and heroic myth-making that obscure the limits of American power. And sometimes they throw good money after bad in foolhardy attempts to rescue ill-conceived policies. We should not ignore these errors, however tragic and demoralizing. Exploring the causes and consequences of strategic failure is a necessary antidote to hubris.

But the United States has also done some things very well, blending activism and restraint in order to deal with present threats without getting mired in unsolvable long-term quagmires. It is historically secure and prosperous, and its position in the world is not simply a matter of geography or luck. For a number of reasons, however, we often fail to acknowledge our own triumphs. This has major implications. For analysts, the focus on failure makes it difficult to understand the sources of success. For policymakers, it encourages abandoning successful strategies and replacing them with bad ones. This leads to overreach, not because of victory fever but because of the inability to recognize victory in the first place.

Consider the conflict with Iraq during the 1990s. The decade began with the first Gulf War, which many worried would be an atrocious bloodbath. At the time, Iraq boasted the fourth-largest army in the world, battle-tested in the long war with Iran. Saddam Hussein was ruthless and aggressive, and the Iraqis had proven willing to suffer horrendous casualties rather than capitulate to their enemies. But Operation Desert Storm was a stunningly rapid victory with a historically low casualty rate for the U.S.-led coalition. In the process it destroyed the bulk of Iraq’s conventional military capabilities, and the sanctions that remained on Iraq over the next decade shattered Iraq’s economy and prevented it from rebuilding. During the 1990s, +weapons inspectors also located and destroyed Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons and caused Iraq to shelve its nuclear ambitions. Most important, Saddam Hussein’s behavior changed during that time. Before Desert Storm he harbored dreams of expanding Iraq’s regional power, but after the war he focused on holding on to power at home.

The irony was that as all this was happening, U.S. officials began to worry that Iraq was “winning the peace.” As long as Saddam remained in place, and as long as he spouted belligerent rhetoric, they feared that whatever gains they made against Iraq were temporary at best. Fears about the deterioration of the sanctions regime were overblown, and in any case even a complete collapse of sanctions would not have mattered much. Iraq’s economy was so thoroughly demolished by the end of the decade that Saddam had no chance of restoring its previous strength, regardless of whether he had unfettered access to international markets. Fears that Iraq would resuscitate its nuclear program were also exaggerated, because they downplayed the resources needed to achieve even a modest nuclear weapons capability. Nonetheless, despite abundant evidence that Iraq was a shell of its former self and that it posed no real threat to anyone, officials became increasingly convinced that stability and security in the Persian Gulf were only possible if Saddam was removed. So they removed him. What followed was a terrible civil war, which is now in its second decade.

The war on al Qaeda followed a similar pattern. The United States rapidly and decisively shattered Osama bin Laden’s original organization. This was important, because vintage al Qaeda was unique among terrorist groups: it was rich, well organized, led by a charismatic figure, and dedicated to killing large numbers of American civilians. Dismantling that group was the most important task in the aftermath of 9/11, for which the Bush administration deserves a great deal of credit. Unfortunately, that administration was unwilling to settle for a limited victory. Instead, it launched a quixotic nation-building effort and became deeply involved in the fractured politics of Afghanistan. At the same time it decided to pursue an open-ended “war on terror” rather than a straightforward war on al Qaeda. By targeting far-flung terrorists with no direct connection to the perpetrators of 9/11, it set the stage for an ambiguous conflict with no end in sight.

The tendency to ignore success also has implications for U.S. foreign policy and great power politics. Consider the Obama administration’s handling of the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s decision to annex Crimea and support separatists in Eastern Ukraine led the Obama administration to enact a series of escalating sanctions against Moscow, but it was cautious about intervening in a way that would put it squarely in the ongoing conflict. At the time, some criticized the administration for timidity and argued that Vladimir Putin was outmaneuvering the president and undoing the post-Cold War order in Europe. But the Obama administration’s approach has worked. Russia’s actions spooked investors, leading to a stock market and currency crisis and a staggering wave of capital flight. Recent estimates suggest that as much as $150 billion left the country last year, and U.S. sanctions compounded Russia’s economic pain. On top of all that was the collapse in oil prices, which has made it extremely difficult for Moscow to weather the storm. Among other things, the loss in revenue will probably force Russia to scale back its ambitious military modernization program. And while Russia’s economic and military power is eroding, its aggressiveness breathed new life into NATO and made its neighbors desperate to strengthen ties to the United States. Thus, Russia simultaneously weakened itself and united its rivals.

The Obama administration appears to have recognized Russia’s self-defeating behavior for what it was. While critics worried that Putin was “running circles” around the White House, the administration’s patient approach has exacted a huge toll from Russia at minimal cost. Of course, this means that Washington is willing to tacitly accept that Crimea will never go back to Ukraine. There is also risk involved: a desperate Putin might gamble for resurrection by lashing out against NATO allies along Russia’s western border. But the administration has clearly drawn the line in the Baltics and is working to deter Russia from going forward there. So far this combined strategy—economic sanctions against Russia plus deterrent threats to protect the alliance—has allowed Washington to avoid a costly intervention while letting Russia exhaust itself.

Limited success isn’t enough for some, however, and prominent critics continue to call for more robust U.S. efforts to assist Kiev, including providing military assistance. It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration or its successor will be able to resist this pressure.

Dealing with China may prove to be the biggest test of all. U.S. success in East Asia is one of the great underappreciated triumphs of the last half century. Successive administrations have managed to deter China from attacking Taiwan, while simultaneously restraining Taiwan from declaring independence. Such a provocation would likely shatter the framework of triangular deterrence that has sustained the peace for decades. Although each case is unique, U.S. relations with all of its Asian allies rely on this basic concept. The United States offers them protection while taking steps to discourage them from doing anything that might lead to a serious crisis with China. As a result, understanding how the United States succeeded in standing between Taiwan and China is critical for developing the United States’ diplomatic approach to the region as a whole.

There are reasons to believe that Washington will change course, however. For instance, U.S. officials might conclude that the past offers little guidance given China’s growing economic and military strength. New circumstances might require an unequivocal declaration of U.S. support in order to reassure increasingly nervous allies. While this is not an unreasonable argument, it risks overstating the degree to which China is actually catching up to the United States. China has clearly made important gains, but it also faces gigantic economic and demographic problems, and there is evidence that the United States is actually increasing its overall lead. If this is true, than the Obama administration and its successors need not abandon the approach that has served it so well for so long. But as with the other cases, everything depends on whether they are able to recognize success in the first place.

Ambassador Jordan | New Saudi ruler King Salman bin Abdulaziz

Former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Tower Center Senior Fellow, Robert Jordan, comments on the succession of Arab King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

This news story first appeared on January 22, 2015. For more information, click here.

(Reuters) – The death on Friday of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah means Salman bin Abdulaziz has become the country’s new ruler and the last to be born before the discovery of oil in the world’s top crude exporter.

As king, Salman, thought to be 79, will have to navigate regional turmoil caused by wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as a bitter rivalry with Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and a lingering threat from an al Qaeda wing in neighboring Yemen.

His crown prince will be his youngest half brother Prince Muqrin, a former intelligence chief who was appointed as deputy crown prince in March.

A reputed moderate with a deft understanding of the competing demands of conservative clerics, powerful tribes and an increasingly youthful population, Salman will also have the final say on social and economic reforms started under Abdullah.

“It appeared to me he had a good handle on the delicate balancing act he had to do to move society forward while being respectful of its traditions and conservative ways,” said Robert Jordan who was U.S. ambassador in Riyadh from 2001-03.

A physically imposing figure, Salman controls one of the Arab world’s largest media groups. He believes that democracy is ill-suited to the conservative kingdom and advocates caution on social and cultural reform, according to a 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

For nearly 50 years Salman was governor of Riyadh Province, a role that involved working closely with both conservative traditionalists and liberal technocrats as he oversaw the development of the Saudi capital from a small desert town to a major metropolis.

However, when two elder full-brothers, crown princes Sultan and Nayef died within a year of each other, Salman was appointed first Defense Minister and then heir apparent.

The defense portfolio involved running the kingdom’s top-spending ministry, which used massive arms purchases to bolster ties with allies such as the United States, Britain and France.

He has been part of the inner circle of the al-Saud ruling family, which founded and still dominates the desert kingdom in alliance with conservative religious clerics, for decades.

In a royal family that bases its right to rule on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, Salman is reputed to be devout and relatively outward-looking.

“He’s intelligent, political, in touch with the conservative base but also quite modern-minded,” said a former diplomat in Riyadh interviewed about the kingdom’s succession process.


As governor of Riyadh from 1962 until 2011, Salman had more to do with foreign governments than many senior royals.

The role also meant he was responsible for arbitrating disputes between quarreling members of the ruling family, putting him at the center of the kingdom’s most important power structure.

The governor’s office overlooks Riyadh’s most appealing square where, if he worked on Fridays, he would have been able to watch as an executioner publicly beheaded malefactors.

In a meeting with the U.S. ambassador in March 2007, described in a cable released by WikiLeaks, Salman said the social and cultural reforms instigated by King Abdullah had to move slowly for fear of a conservative backlash.

He also argued against the introduction of democracy in the kingdom, citing regional and tribal divisions, and told the ambassador that a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was necessary for Middle East stability.

Jordan said Prince Salman had initially refused to believe Saudis participated in the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, but his attitude changed in the face of increasingly solid evidence that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

“He doesn’t blindly accept everything the United States says, but at the same time he understands the importance of the relationship, which goes beyond oil,” Jordan said.


With his strong, bearded features, Salman is the prince who is said to resemble his father, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, more closely than do any of his brothers.

Ibn Saud recaptured his family’s old stronghold of Riyadh in 1902 with a small group of followers fired by an austere vision of Islam, setting off a three-decade campaign of conquest that carved out the modern borders of a kingdom founded in 1932.

As one of the so-called “Sudairi seven” – the brothers born to Ibn Saud by his favorite wife Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi – Salman has been at the center of royal power for decades.

His full brothers in a family of more than 30 half-brothers include the late King Fahd and Crown Princes Sultan and Nayef, and former interior minister Prince Ahmed.

Salman was born in 1936 in Riyadh, then a mud-brick oasis town deep in the interior of a new kingdom that had not yet discovered oil, depending instead on revenue from pilgrims to Mecca and Medina, date farming and camel herding.

Yet one son, Prince Sultan bin Salman, became the first Arab astronaut, flying on the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 1985.

Prince Sultan is now the kingdom’s tourism minister while another son, Prince Abdulaziz, is the deputy oil minister.

In his five decades administering Riyadh and its surroundings, Salman oversaw the development of the capital from a large desert town into a metropolis of 4.6 million people.

Prince Salman was taught in the “princes’ school” set up in Ibn Saud’s palace by the imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, signaling the importance that Ibn Saud attached to the centrality of pure Islamic belief in the kingdom he created.

Tower Center Director, James Hollifield has been appointed as a Public Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center

rez-jholliWe are pleased to announce that Dr. James F. Hollifield, Director of the Tower Center, has been appointed as a Public Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. for 2015-2016.

During his sabbatical at the Wilson Center, Professor Hollifield will be completing a book entitled THE MIGRATION STATE, a study of how states manage migration for strategic gains.

Dr. Joshua Rovner, Tower Chair and Director of Studies will serve as interim director in Professor Hollifield’s absence.