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Moscow, Russia (AHN) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday Moscow has received positive signals from U.S. president-elect Barack Obama’s circle and his government can respond accordingly to improve Russia-U.S. relations.

In a televised question-and-answer meeting with Russian citizens in Moscow, Putin referred to the positive signals as the indications made by people close to Obama about two main issues that have strained relations between the two countries: the U.S. missile defense shield to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic and the NATO expansion in Europe

Citing the circle, Putin said the incoming president is considering re-evaluating the Bush administration’s plan to deploy anti-missile batteries in Europe near the Russia border.

Another positive signal, according to Putin, is Obama’s apparent position not to hurry in admitting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.

“If these are not just words and translate into real actions, we will respond in kind and our American partners will immediately feel this,” Putin said, according to Agence France-Presse. “We hope very much there will be positive changes.”.

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Picking the people was the easy part.

President-elect Obama and his new national security team will now turn to a world full of vexing, linked problems on every continent, and tricky, early choices. From the speed of withdrawal from Iraq to the speed of investment in Afghanistan, from Kashmir to Moscow, Obama will make some of his most important choices early. Here are some of the toughest.

IRAQ

The war in Iraq, and the promise of a radically different approach to it, helped make Obama president. But he will arrive in the White House with his predecessor having already negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement providing for a timeline for withdrawal from the country, the core of Obama’s campaign promise.

The agreement “points us in the right direction,” Obama told reporters in Chicago Monday.

The most rapid pace contemplated is Obama’s campaign plan to have all American combat troops out of Iraq 16 months after he was sworn-in — that is, by May of 2010. The U.S. agreement with the Iraqi government ensures American troops will be out by the end of 2011.

“The question is how much, if at all, do you deviate from the agreement that’s been negotiated and passed in Iraq,” said Anne Marie Slaughter, the dean of Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “Does that agreement supersede what President Obama said when he was candidate Obama?”

Slaughter pointed to Obama’s decision to retain the defense secretary who played a key role in negotiating the agreement as a sign that he’s likely to conform his own policy to its timeline.

But he’ll face pressure from both sides. Iraq remains a violent and unpredictable place, with suicide bombers killing at least 31 Iraqis in two attacks Monday.

And the Status of Forces Agreement likely means that as Obama takes office, American commanders will be adjusting to a new paradigm in which they shift more of the burden to Iraqi units, allowing them to take the lead and, at times, to fail in battles with insurgents. He’s likely to face intense internal debates over how involved the United State should be on a day-to-day basis, and pressure from the Iraqi government to help in some places, and step back in others.

But Obama said repeatedly during the campaign that his 16-month timeline was realistic, and many of his supporters seen no reason to dally. What’s more, the troops and materiel are needed elsewhere.

In Chicago Monday, Obama told reporters that the Status of Forces Agreement indicates that the United States is “now on a glide path to reduce our forces in Iraq.”

“The challenge for him is going to be determining the slope of that glide path,” said Shawn Brimley, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.”

AFGHANISTAN

General James Jones, the president-elect’s National Security Advisor, drew attention recently for stating emphatically that international forces were “not winning in Afghanistan.”

Indeed, there’s a wide consensus that the situation in the country that launched the 9/11 terror attacks is a mess: The Taliban is resurgent on the ground, corruption is rampant, and opium is the national industry. Meanwhile, the multinational force patrolling the country opposing them is adrift.

“There been no unifying strategy,” said Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation. “NATO operates its own way, every country operates its own way, the State Department and the Defense Department don’t agree.”

Part of the answer seems to be more Western troops. Obama’s advisors hope a new, pro-American mood will encourage European and other allies to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. And Obama has backed sending two or three more American brigades to the country, though the rate of that increase will be dictated by how fast Americans can leave Iraq.

Obama will also be briefed on a new Afghanistan strategy prepared by the military, the contours of which Gates outlined in a speech in Canada last week.

“All of us agree that one of our most important, and maybe the most important, objective for us in 2009 in Afghanistan is a successful election,” Gates said.

That likely means an urgent new focus on Afghanistan, to make it – at least – secure enough to hold an election at the end of next year.

But skeptics warn that Afghanistan has bled dry other occupiers, and that the U.S. should be realistic about its goals.

“Success is not going to be the creation of a secular, prosperous, and democratic Afghanistan,” said Coll, who said a new U.S. policy will likely include a massive investment in training the country’s army and police.

“That’s the ticket home – that’s the ticket to his reelection in 2012 and getting American troops out of direct action by then,” Coll said.

PAKISTAN

The potentially catastrophic aftermath of the terrorist siege in Mumbai last week could instantly jump to the top of Obama’s list of crises to deal with – depending on how India and Pakistan respond in the 50 days before he takes the oath of office.

It falls to the Bush administration – which sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region Monday – to try to keep the two South Asian rivals from moving back to the brink of war. U.S. officials so far seem to be succeeding in persuading Pakistan to fully cooperate in tracking down those responsible for the attacks – and in restraining India from responding with provocative military gestures.

But both countries will be looking for Obama to signal how he will manage what will still be, at best, a perilously tense situation. And Obama’s options, as always in South Asia, are fraught with danger. Will he push a new and fragile Pakistani government – as he suggested in the campaign – to crack down further on terrorist groups? Will he back off the Bush administration’s increasingly aggressive use of military strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban elements on Pakistani soil?

Even more important, given preliminary indications that the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba may be implicated in the Mumbai attacks, could Washington get more involved in pushing for a negotiated settlement to the long-held grievances of India and Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir?

“In order to start to get Pakistanis to focus on the insurgent groups, you need to have them start to feel less paranoid about India, and the way to do that is to start dealing with the Kashmir issue,” said Caroline Wadhams, a national security analyst at the Center for American Progress.

“His team has talked about the need to start working on the Kashmir issue. There’s a big debate over whether the U.S. can even play a positive role in that. They will have to decide how hard they have to push that issue.”

Look for Vice President-elect Biden to play a key role on this one – he has significant and important contacts in both countries. And if Obama needs any reminding about the potential peril posed by a Kashmir-fueled conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals, his nominee to be secretary of State should be able to attest. Hillary Clinton’s husband once called Kashmir, “the most dangerous place on earth.”

GUANTANAMO

An easier decision for Obama is one that he widely talked about during the campaign and confirmed during his recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” – his intention to close the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that,” Obama said.

There is a wide bipartisan consensus that the Gitmo should be closed. And politics would be pushing Obama to make the move even if the merits of the decision were not completely compelling. Many of his initial foreign policy and national security appointments – Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the retention of Bob Gates at the Pentagon chief among them – have caused grumbling within Obama’s base of support on the Democratic left.

But closing Gitmo could very well open a Pandora’s Box that could overwhelm both the political and diplomatic benefits that the action would doubtless bring for the new administration.

As in – where do the roughly 250 prisoners being held at Guantanamo go?

Some could be repatriated – but that likely will mean intensive diplomacy by the young administration at a time when it is tending to a number of other foreign policy brushfires. And if some countries do accept detainees – China is one example – what kind of treatment awaits them when they return?

Furthermore, if some are kept in the U.S., as they most certainly will be, can they successfully be prosecuted, given the extreme and extraordinary circumstances surrounding their incarceration at Guantanamo?

The possibility that a future terrorist act could result from a current Guantanamo detainee being freed is truly the stuff of nightmares for the new Obama national security team.

MISSILE DEFENSE

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev put his country firmly on Obama’s agenda by attacking the president-elect the day after his election.

He and Vladimir Putin have also made a specific demand: That Obama scrap plans to set up a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama has been a skeptic of missile defense, raising doubts primarily about whether the technology is ready. He’s also signaled that he would like to work more closely with Russia on a range of other issues, beginning with nuclear proliferation. However, he and his advisors are skeptical of Russia’s autocratic leaders.

Hawks want Obama to signal that he’s taking a tough line, and that he won’t be intimidated by Russia. Moscow would like him to put missile defense on a back burner before they arrive at the negotiating table.

Some arms control advocates see a middle ground: Obama can continue to question the system’s technical capacity, making space to negotiate.

“A decision on new deployments of strategic missile interceptors can be deferred until the system is proven effective through realistic tests and has the full support of U.S. allies,” Daryl Kimball, the president of the Arms Control Association, wrote in the Washington Times last month.

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Moscow aims to restore trust with U.S.

Barack Obama toured Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus in July of this year.

Barack Obama toured Iraq with Gen. David Petraeus in July of this year.

American elections are a powerful drug: they bring delusions of omnipotence. All that talk of “change” and “hope” brings demands for swift action: “Do it now,” “first six months,” “hundred days.” The economic crisis may indeed demand speed, but in foreign policy the reality is that, on the afternoon of Jan. 20, President Obama will face the same challenges that President Bush did that morning. And none presents much opportunity for bold new initiatives.

That’s fortunate. Incoming presidents making big decisions in a hurry is a surefire recipe for error. Think JFK and the Bay of Pigs. More recently, George W. Bush’s reflexive ditching of the Clinton administration’s strategy on North Korea was a misstep it has taken years to retrieve.

The foreign-policy and national-security inbox shows that, even on pressing issues, Obama has the luxury of time. A quick overview:

Iraq. Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops. But that’s already getting under way. At issue still: the pace of the drawdown, a date for final disengagement and the number of U.S. troops who should then remain as last-ditch guarantors of a democratic government in Baghdad. No Iraqi politician is going to be able to engage seriously on those topics until after their own elections next fall.

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In conversations and e-mail exchanges with SPIEGEL ONLINE, European leaders and thinkers express their wishes for US President-elect Barack Obama. Yes, they want the US to join the Kyoto successor. And, yes, they want to see Guantanamo close. But many also know that theirs is a view from Mars.

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Part 1: What Europe Wants from Obama
Part 2: ‘We Need the US as a Strong Partner’

Part 3: ‘On Iran, Precious Time Has Been Lost’
Part 4: ‘We Need a Washington Less Ideological in Dealing with Russia and China’
Part 5: ‘The Time Has Come to Kick-Start Talks with Tehran’
Part 6: ‘Some Disappointment Is Inevitable’

Part 7: ‘By Voting for Obama, Americans Are not Voting to Become an EU Country’
Part 8: ‘Please Don’t Bomb Iran’
Part 9: ‘A Measure of Moral Leadership Would Be to Join the ICC’

Part 10: ‘Obama — Something that Is Still Impossible to Achieve in many European Countries’

Exerp below

Part 1: What Europe Wants from Obama

Margot Wallström of Sweden is the vice-president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive.

    On Tuesday the American people cast their votes electing a new President of the United States. I believe we are entering into a new era of trans-Atlantic relations.
    In these times of extreme financial instability, it is more important than ever to strengthen trans-Atlantic relations and work together to solve global problems. Europe and the US share the same goals and values. We both want a peaceful, prosperous and stable world, where democracy is the norm, the rule of law prevails and human rights are respected.
    Even more importantly, the biggest concerns facing us today are of a global nature. The financial crisis, climate change, security, the fight against poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world are all challenges that neither Europe nor the US can take on single-handed.

Slavenka Drakulic, a native of Croatia, is the best-selling author of “Cafe Europa.”

 

    A View from Mars: I am afraid that we Europeans tend to attribute too much personal power to the president of the United States. We might as well be Martians for all that we demand of the new president. We would like him (especially if it is our favorite Barack Obama) to: stop the war in Iraq, divert funding from the military industrial complex and use it to improve the lives of the poor, introduce national health insurance, sit down with Putin and discuss how best to bring peace to the world, persuade China and India to restrict dangerous gas emissions, get rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan, make a deal with Iran, sign the Kyoto Protocol, catch Osama bin Laden and, finally, bring peace to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Of course, all of this should be accomplished in close collaboration with European governments — and all in the first year, possibly in the first days of his presidency.

Part 2: ‘We Need the US as a Strong Partner’

Robert Badinter, 80, is a French senator and member of the foreign affairs and defense committees who, as justice minister under President Mitterrand, achieved the abolition of the death penalty.

My expectation of the new president is that he:

    1. Withdraw US forces from Iraq;2. Close the prison at Guantanamo and give all inmates the rights to which they are entitled under US law;

    3. Through his emphatic support he must achieve a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians;

    4. Take an energetic approach to the fight against climate change and ratify the Kyoto Protocol;

    5. Support the International Criminal Court;

    6. Appoint independent and progressive judges to the US Supreme Court.

Part 3: ‘On Iran, Precious Time Has Been Lost’

Hans Blix was head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997 following a stint as foreign minister of Sweden. In the three years leading up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, he was in charge of searching for weapons of mass destruction in the country.

    The global financial system has been rocked by the recent crisis and Mr. Obama will have to bring about early discussions about a broader agenda and broader participation in the institutions for international financial cooperation like the IMF and the G-8. During a global recession he will have to resist protectionist pressures from important groups who supported him.
    Obama should be able to use the strong public opinion in the US to make the country help frame drastic global policies against dangerous climate change and environmental destruction. Technological innovation should be promoted, like fuel cells for cars. Energy must be generated more efficiently and used less wastefully. Obama should stimulate the use of effective renewable sources and overcome any hesitation against a rapid expansion of nuclear power.
    In international affairs, Obama will have to steer away from the arrogant unilateralism of the Bush years and explain to the public that the interdependence of states and peoples is fast accelerating. In this modern world a constructive use of multilateral institutions like the UN is a necessity. They are indispensable mechanisms where reconciliation of interests can take place and joint action can be organized.
    Obama was ridiculed by his opponents for saying that he was ready to talk with adversaries. He was right and his administration should act on this principle. To talk is not to concede. The Bush administration has had a tendency to talk to others rather than with others. The worst example has been the demand that Iran must suspend its program for the enrichment of uranium before the US will sit down for direct discussions.
    When it comes to US withdrawal from Iraq, Obama should take the stance that no US troops should stay longer than the host government wishes. The Bush administration, while intending to withdraw the bulk of US forces, has clearly wanted to retain some US troops in less visible bases. The aim seems to be more to protect US interests in Iraqi oil and to have springboards for possible actions against Iran than to protect Iraq.
    For Obama, Iraq was the “dumb” war and Afganistan — where 9/11 was planned — was the place where all resources should have been projected. He wants a surge in Afganistan but there is a risk that the opportunity for success has already been lost and that American and other foreign troops are now seen more as foreign than as liberators. To abandon the country to renewed medieval style rule is not a possible American policy, but reconciliation with and involvement by parts of the Taliban might be a possibility. Iran and Russia could provide important help if the US can relax relations with these countries.
    On Iran, precious time has been lost during which the country has moved closer to a capability to make bomb grade material. Rather than humiliating Iran by declaring — as if to a child — that “Iran should behave itself,” the US should seek to identify and remove the incentives Iran may have to enrich uranium. To forego enrichment, Iran needs iron-clad assurances of supply of uranium fuel for its nuclear power program. Although Iran is no longer threatened by neighboring Iraq, it still feels threatened by the US. Washington should be ready to offer Iran security guarantees and diplomatic relations if the country abandons the option to make bomb grade material.
    Obama has rightly endorsed the call by a large number of foreign policy experts led by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and William Perry for the US to take the initiative in nuclear disarmament. In 2007 the world spent $1.3 trillion (€1 trillion) on military expenses — about half of this expense came from the US budget. Taming the military-industrial complex is difficult in any country but starting a new era of international disarmament could help Mr. Obama to move huge sums from arms to health care, social welfare and education.
    Early US ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty would send a dramatic signal that an era of global disarmament has begun. Preventing non-proliferation will be less difficult in a world in which those states possessing nuclear weapon states renounce the license they have given themselves up till now.

Gert Weisskirchen, is the foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats in Germany’s federal parliament.

    It is now vitally important that Barack Obama, as president, meets with, listens to and works closely together with his allies. And there is a mountain of things that need his attention.
    For example, it is important that, from the beginning, Obama addresses the problems in the Middle East. I would hope that he will not wait until the very end of his presidency to move forward as both Clinton and Bush did before him. The time to act is now.
    The second priority is the relationship between the West and Russia. We have new presidents now in the US and in Russia. I believe there is a chance that Obama and Dmitry Medvedev could find a basis for understanding. Moscow is looking for rapprochement; it saw that it lost the media war in Georgia. On a more substantive level, there is a problem called Saakashvili. I am convinced that Washington cannot continue to support such an unreliable politician in Tbilisi.
    In Iran, it looks like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could very well lose the next election. We have to make it clear to the electorate in Iran that they too could author a defining moment much as the US electorate has. We need to be careful not to be pushy; there is a risk of creating a kind of false solidarity in Iran against the West. We can’t be confrontational. It is important we are clear about which lines cannot be crossed, but we have to show flexibility when it comes to the diplomatic instruments we use. We have to try and create a sense of optimism in Iran.

 

Part 4: ‘We Need a Washington Less Ideological in Dealing with Russia and China’

Thierry de Montbrial is director of the French Institute of International Relations and the author of “Twenty Years that Turned the World Upside Down — From Berlin to Beijing.”
    First, I would like to see a more congenial president, one who takes a friendlier approach to the rest of the world. Of course, we need a leader who, in light of the financial crisis, proves to be effective on economic issues and does not fall prey to the temptation of protectionism. Politically speaking, he must be a man who thinks beyond narrow American interests. More concretely: damage control must continue in Iraq, and there must be a coordinated approach with Pakistan and dialogue with Iran — without it, there can be no solution in the Middle East or in Afghanistan. Finally, the new man in Washington must show himself to be less ideological when dealing with Russia and China, particularly regarding issues such as the expansion of NATO and the missile shield. Planetary problems cannot be resolved through confrontation.

Part 5: ‘The Time Has Come to Kick-Start Talks with Tehran’

Pawel Swieboda is Founder and Director of demosEUROPA, a Polish think tank.
    The key task facing the new US President will be to share power and influence with other key players around the world in a manner which preserves American leadership. The decline of the US’s position in the world is a fact of life. However, statistics never tell the whole story. Washington continues to pull the strings on a range of issues from science and innovation to nuclear non-proliferation. The American civilization remains singularly attractive to other nations and peoples around the world.
    If the new president manages to build an inclusive international order in which key players feel comfortable, he will find it easier to exercise leadership. An early test of his strategy will come with the triple challenge of climate change, trade and new financial regulations. If he is to win on all three issues, he will have to both invite others to share in the benefits and to assume resonsibilities himself. On limiting greenhouse gas emissions, he will need to convince China of the merits of a low carbon economy. On trade, he will need to put an end to the schism between the developed and developing world which led to the failure of the Doha round. Finally, regarding new financial regulations, he will need to invite others to the table at the US- and EU-dominated IMF or its successor and ensure that it becomes a first responder against global turbulence.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, is president of the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament.

    Obama promises to renew American diplomacy, and to talk to foes as well as friends. This would make an enormous difference.

Part 6: ‘Some Disappointment Is Inevitable’

Wolfgang Ischinger is a former German Ambassador to the United States and is chairman of the Munich Security Conference.
    The most positive consequence of the election — and the most necessary one — is the opportunity for not just the United States, but for the entire West to regain the moral high ground in international affairs. Moral leadership is what we have most dramatically lost during the Bush years, and we must dramatically regain it.
    I do worry that many Germans and other Europeans have developed unrealistically high expectations for an Obama administration. In some of the panels I’ve been participating in recently, you get the sense that everyone expects a trans-Atlantic paradise will emerge with blue skies and constant sunshine. Some disappointment is inevitable.

Part 7: ‘By Voting for Obama, Americans Are not Voting to Become an EU Country’

Volker Perthes is the head of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
    This election will bring change, regardless of the winner. Both candidates expressed their wish to cooperate with Europeans more than their predecessor has done and to abandon the “us vs. them” mentality that has characterized much of the Bush years.
    You do have the sense, more so in the media than in policy circles, that many here expect that Obama will rule as a “European president.” That may turn out to be wrong in several respects. By voting for Obama, Americans are not voting to become an EU country.

 

    Obama understands the changing world, and we can expect that he will increasingly rely on partners in Asia — not just partners in Europe. As expected, I think he will be more multilateral in his approach, but that doesn’t mean he’ll play below the weight of his country.

 

    The biggest challenge will be to align agendas on both sides of the Atlantic. This has been difficult in the past not only because European and American interests partly diverge, but also because of differing styles and traditions of behavior. Europeans, for instance, will never be as prepared to use military force as Americans are.
    There are other challenges, too: Americans and Europeans have to come to agreement about concrete goals in Afghanistan. Is it democracy? Or simply stability? Are we aiming for economic transformation, particularly in the Pashtun tribal areas? Each side will have to determine what it is willing to contribute.
    As far as Russia is concerned, it will be easier for Obama than it would have been for McCain to improve relations. Obama, after all, has not proposed kicking Russia out of the G-8 or forming a league of democracies aligned against it.
    As far as Israel-Palestine is concerned, the opposite might be true. Obama might face more domestic pressure on the issue than McCain would have, because many Americans still suspect Obama of being a krypto-Muslim or at least of being pro-Arab.

Ulrike Guérot heads the Berlin office of European Council on Foreign Relations.

    Barack Obama is a paradigm change for the US. He will need to change the way the US acts in the world. The US has lost its political and — now — it’s financial supremacy, and the country will need to adapt. And, perhaps of even more concern, the country has lost a great deal of sympathy and reputation as a result of the Bush administration — especially among younger generations abroad. Barack Obama conveys the policy of a “fresh start.”
    On foreign policy, this is likely to show in areas such as climate protection, where Europe is keen to see an engaged US; or with respect to Iraq, where a trans-Atlantic exit strategy is needed. Europe also expects a new tone and a new style from the US. But one should not expect a trans-Atlantic honeymoon. Obama will need Europe’s help and troops in Afghanistan — and Europe will be reluctant to deliver. The US and Europe also increasingly differ on how to deal and what to do with Russia — but they avoid talking about it openly. The US seems to have more ‘Cold War’ reflexes when it comes to Russia, where Europe wants and needs the strategic partnership.
    The US could regain its leadership if it shows readiness to engage fully in international law making, including human right policies at the UN. The world needs a US that engages clearly into multilateralism and that stops believing that it can better act alone only because it feels so strong.
    The biggest potential is that the US will again fall into a pattern of playing divide and conquer with Europe instead of promoting a strong and truly united Europe.

Part 9: ‘A Measure of Moral Leadership Would Be to Join the ICC’

Diego Hidalgo is co-founder of the Spanish newspaper El Pais and a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

    I would first expect the new US president to convey to the world the strong message that the days of arrogant unilateralism are over. The next US president will face a megacrisis in the US and the world, with several interrelated threats which cannot be resolved at the nation-state level but call for concerted action and for a new and much stronger international governance architecture. The megacrisis that started in the financial sector threatens to depress the world economy, affects the whole world, and offers an opportunity for breakthrough in world governance. The first priority for the US president should be to initiate a “world constitutional period” during which he would develop coordinated responses to the four perhaps most urgent problems: resolve the financial and economic crisis, undertake the measures needed to face climate change, end extreme poverty and hunger throughout the world and end the main wars and conflicts.

Jeremy Hobbs is executive director of Oxfam International.

    The major crises facing the world, failure of global governance, collapsing financial markets, the threat of catastrophic climate change, continuing poverty and hunger, and worsening global security, cannot be addressed without positive and urgent leadership from the United States. Whoever is the new president must use his political capital to drive this international agenda, no matter how tough the domestic issues are.
    If ever there was a time to demonstrate how narrow national self interest should not be at the expense of the global good and developing countries, it is now, in the midst of the current global financial crisis.

Part 10: ‘Obama — Something that Is Still Impossible to Achieve in many European Countries’

Dr. Jean-Yves Haine is a senior researcher for trans-Atlantic and global security at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.

    Electing Obama will in itself boost the US image abroad. Europe is looking with admiration and envy at Obama, a symbol of something that is still impossible to achieve in many European countries. After the election, symbolic but important gestures could be made: Guantanamo closure (easier said than done), the torture and rendition legacy, some amendment of the Patriot Act (but not much). Mostly, the tone and language will be crucial: to end the rhetoric of the war on terror, the us-versus-them mantra. … This will be necessary if the US wants to resume its role of honest broker in the Middle East (but the burden of past decisions will be particularly heavy).

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Unbelievable ~ incredible ~ that McCain is so hard up for cash that has to go and ask for money from a country – he has practically declared the enemy –

McCain has gotten himself caught in his own net ~ through his deregulation tinkering ~ in an area he doesn’t understand – the economy ~ he has left his Wall Street buddies who would have helped him out hard up for cash ~ in addition he has pissed half of them off with his angry rant at the start of the financial crisis. So that many would not support him on princple.

On Russia ~ between himself and Palin – have gone out of their way to demonize that country ~ so much so that when a Russian diplomat receives a confidential letter – signed by John McCain requesting funds for his haranguing campaign – it’s not in Russia’s interest to keep the matter confidential.

So much for Georgia !!

Question is how many other foreign diplomats and embassies has the McCain camp solicited funds from?

And what is more ~ is although Russia is developing a market economy – it is still very much a Socialist run state.

This is beyond desperate!!

While McCain wants to make war – and get bogged down attempting to extract oil out of some remote/hostile corner of the earth – the future is in technology.

It would be a bad dream if we looked out at our future 50 -100 years from now and see ourselves still using oil in the same way – we have already got working models of new propulsion systems that could be used to drive a car – such as the magnetic rotary motor / and electric battery drive vehicles. And once we start to look into the problem of energy creation – it is no telling what we will come up with.

On the campaign trail Obama often says ‘Those who out teach us, will out compete us.’ I don’t think McCain really grasps that – he has surrounded himself with lobbyist – but what he don’t understand is that we can’t afford to play those same old games.

Nothing would make McCain happier than to see the KGB return in Russia – he might be happy to know that some Russian from the Old Guard still see America – as he sees Russia – as Cold War enemy – the perfect storm for another – Cold War – or the going back in time.

 

Jokes: Bush went in as a Social Conservative and came out as a Conservative Socialist.

There are two problems here – one is the folding banking industry around the world – and the other is that the weakened banking industry would allow – outsiders and mainly sovereign wealth funds to come in a cherry pick the banks and or industries that they want at rock bottom prices – these very powerful sovereign funds are mainly coming from three areas – the Middle East, Russia and China. Their investments at a time like this would give these areas undue influence over US and EU banking and insurance industries – but more their investments will give these countries or regions undue influence over US and possibly EU policy. With undue Middle East influence we could all be eating Halal. Western governments had to act.

To blame – of course are a number of things – but one is George Bush’s oil policy. Since the US only has 3% of the world’s oil – to fund its oil usage – it has to get oil from somewhere else. Saudi Arabia held almost all of the cards up until the war in Iraq – and the removal of Saddam Hussein – allowed the US create a major oil player in Iraq. But the cost was enormous. Yesterday 40bn barrel Iraqi oil contracts were put on sale in London. Drill Baby Drill to Big Oil. The problem is that the cost of the war could have funded the industry to build solar panels for every roof – in sunnier areas. And the new research in a whole host of energy alternatives – which would one day become fixtures – or until we develop the new technology.

If you listen to McCain – and Palin – Russia is ready to attack – but the real deal is the laying and operation of a gas pipeline through Georgia. So like Iraq – likely there will be a military build up there – against the evil Russia – to secure the oil or gas coming from there.

Under Bush’s policy vast amounts of money is being transferred to the Middle East – vast amounts of money is going into wars for oil – under “security” – Condi recently had a meeting with the Libyan leader – with the intention of vast amounts of US money flowing into Libya.

While in the US infrastructure crumbles, while the people in the Western world are at the whim of dictators – like Chavez, or Russia which clearly is putting its interests first. And in the Middle East – which showed itself when George Bush didn’t speak at the Israeli Kenesit – as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel did- because – he had to ask the Saudi’s to lower the price of oil – and as a part of that deal – he slung them some nuclear technology.

The oil game is a crazy game and it is leaving the US broke and at a disadvantage. The advantage and the money are in new generation of ET energy technology – one where for example cars are run on magnetism (magnetic motor) – and more efficient battery technologies. What would it mean to the US and EU countries – if they could get a mechanized factory – a factory of robots – to work around the clock without having to take into account the cost of energy. With this we can compete with China. There would be no need to ship jobs abroad.

The candidate with real foresight is Barack Obama. He’s thinking.

President Bush, right, smiles during the G20 ministerial meeting at the International Monetary Fund Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 in Washington. From left, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Bush. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci - AP)

President Bush, right, smiles during the G20 ministerial meeting at the International Monetary Fund Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008 in Washington. From left, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Bush. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci - AP)

The U.S. government is dramatically escalating its response to the financial crisis by planning to invest $250 billion in the country’s banks, forcing nine of the largest to accept a Treasury stake in what amounts to a partial nationalization.

News that European governments also planned to take stakes in their banks and anticipation of new U.S. measures unleashed a tremendous surge in U.S. stock prices yesterday, with the Dow Jones industrial average soaring to the biggest percentage gain since the 1930s, up 11.1 percent. It ended 936.42 points higher, the largest point gain ever, just days after the Dow had its steepest weekly decline in history.

The Treasury Department’s decision to take equity stakes in banks represents a significant reversal, coming just weeks after Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. had opposed the idea. In a momentous meeting yesterday afternoon in Washington, Paulson, flanked by top financial regulators, told the executives of nine leading banks that they needed to participate in the program for the good of the national economy, two industry sources said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The government’s initiative, which was to be announced this morning before the markets open for New York trading, is part of a wider plan that goes beyond the $700 billion rescue package approved by Congress earlier this month. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is also set to announce today the launch of an insurance fund to guarantee new issues of bank debt. It will provide unlimited deposit insurance for non-interest-bearing accounts, which are widely used by small businesses for payroll and other purposes.

In pressing the bank executives to accept partial government ownership, Paulson’s message was clear: Though officially the program was voluntary, the banks had little choice in the matter. In exchange for giving the Treasury minority stakes, the nine firms would jointly receive an investment worth $125 billion. The government would make another $125 billion available for the next 30 days to thousands of other banks and thrifts across the country.

Federal officials set conditions, telling the banks they could not raise their dividends without government permission and could not offer their executives new retirement packages, though the old packages would remain intact.

Paulson told them the moves would shore up confidence in their own institutions, spark lending throughout the system and send a message to smaller institutions that there is no stigma in accepting federal funding. Though some were reluctant, all of the executives complied.

There is a risk that banks will take the new government capital and use it to bolster their balance sheets but still not resume lending, and the Treasury is not getting any specific contractual guarantee to prevent that from happening. But bank regulators, particularly the Federal Reserve, will lean heavily on the firms receiving infusions to use the capital to increase their lending to businesses and consumers.

Taken together, the steps planned by the Treasury, the FDIC and the Federal Reserve amount to a monumental effort to jump-start the business of lending, which all but dried up in recent weeks as banks have lost faith in one another and their customers. Global markets began to melt down. Some emerging nations teetered on the brink of financial collapse.

Source: Washington Post

Does Sarah Palin believe in the Anti-Christ? Does she believe true Christians will be whisked up to heaven sometime in the near future? Does she expect Jesus to come back to earth in our lifetimes and battle the armies of Satan? Would biblical prophecies about Armageddon influence her foreign policy positions on Israel and Russia? These are urgent questions the media have failed to ask. According to Chip Berlet, a leading expert on the Christian right, mainstream reporters tend to view apocalyptic fundamentalists as a “silly little side show” in American political life, when, in fact, one of their own may soon be a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the world.

Source: ANP

McCain is stuck between a rock and a hard place – his judgment is on the line with Palin – I suppose all he can hope for is that old Palin magic to come through for him – but she can’t always talk out of a teleprompter. McCain at 72 has a job to convince everyone to vote in a fool – and we have already voted in one – and the fireworks of his administration are all around us!

McCain says that he always puts country first. In this important case, that is simply not true.

Will someone please put Sarah Palin out of her agony? Is it too much to ask that she come to realize that she wants, in that wonderful phrase in American politics, “to spend more time with her family”? Having stayed in purdah for weeks, she finally agreed to a third interview. CBS’s Katie Couric questioned her in her trademark sympathetic style. It didn’t help. When asked how living in the state closest to Russia gave her foreign-policy experience, Palin responded thus:

“It’s very important when you consider even national-security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America. Where—where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to—to our state.”

There is, of course, the sheer absurdity of the premise. Two weeks ago I flew to Tokyo, crossing over the North Pole. Does that make me an expert on Santa Claus? (Thanks, Jon Stewart.) But even beyond that, read the rest of her response. “It is from Alaska that we send out those …” What does this mean? This is not an isolated example. Palin has been given a set of talking points by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras that she repeats and repeats as long as she can. (“We mustn’t blink.”) But if forced off those rehearsed lines, what she has to say is often, quite frankly, gibberish.

Couric asked her a smart question about the proposed $700 billion bailout of the American financial sector. It was designed to see if Palin understood that the problem in this crisis is that credit and liquidity in the financial system has dried up, and that that’s why, in the estimation of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, the government needs to step in to buy up Wall Street’s most toxic liabilities. Here’s the entire exchange:

    COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

    PALIN: That’s why I say I, like every American I’m speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—it’s got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we’ve got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.

This is nonsense—a vapid emptying out of every catchphrase about economics that came into her head. Some commentators, like CNN’s Campbell Brown, have argued that it’s sexist to keep Sarah Palin under wraps, as if she were a delicate flower who might wilt under the bright lights of the modern media. But the more Palin talks, the more we see that it may not be sexism but common sense that’s causing the McCain campaign to treat her like a time bomb.

Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president. She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska. But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national or international issue, and this is a hell of a time to start. The next administration is going to face a set of challenges unlike any in recent memory. There is an ongoing military operation in Iraq that still costs $10 billion a month, a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is not going well and is not easily fixed. Iran, Russia and Venezuela present tough strategic challenges.

Domestically, the bailout and reform of the financial industry will take years and hundreds of billions of dollars. Health-care costs, unless curtailed, will bankrupt the federal government. Social Security, immigration, collapsing infrastructure and education are all going to get much worse if they are not handled soon.

And the American government is stretched to the limit. Between the Bush tax cuts, homeland-security needs, Iraq, Afghanistan and the bailout, the budget is looking bleak. Plus, within a few years, the retirement of the baby boomers begins with its massive and rising costs (in the trillions).

Obviously these are very serious challenges and constraints. In these times, for John McCain to have chosen this person to be his running mate is fundamentally irresponsible. McCain says that he always puts country first. In this important case, it is simply not true.