On “Leverages”

In a previous post, I asked a question about leverages in terms of foreign policy:

A key–an essential–question on leverages at Abu Muqawama (Dr. Andrew Exum):

Where things get tricky is when one tries to decide what to do about that. The principle problem is one that has been in my head watching more violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Egypt: the very source of U.S. leverage against the regimes in Bahrain and Egypt is that which links the United States to the abuses of the regime in the first place. So if you want to take a “moral” stand against the abuses of the regime in Bahrain and remove the Fifth Fleet, congratulations! You can feel good about yourself for about 24 hours — or until the time you realize that you have just lost the ability to schedule a same-day meeting with the Crown Prince to press him on the behavior of Bahrain’s security forces. Your leverage, such as it was, has just evaporated. The same is true in Egypt. It would feel good, amidst these violent clashes between the Army and protesters, to cut aid to the Egyptian Army. But in doing so, you also reduce your own leverage over the behavior of the Army itself.

Okay, so we have leverage with an Army cracking down on its own people, an Army fattened on US military aid and training. I thought bilateral military training was supposed to mitigate the worst instincts of some armies? Isn’t that the theory? What does it mean to have leverage? To what end? To what purpose? I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anyone does, so Dr. Exum has a point. We have no strategy (link goes to Zen) within which to place “trade offs”. Well, if we do, I can’t see it.

Greg Scoblete at The Compass (RealClearWorld) asks the question in a much better fashion (I enjoy reading that blog, whether I agree or disagree with specific points):

But all of this begs an important question – leverage for what? The idea is that the U.S. invests in places like Bahrain and Egypt because it needs or wants something in return. During the Cold War, it was keeping these states out of the Soviet orbit. In the 1990s and beyond, it was ensuring these states remained friendly with Israel and accommodative to U.S. military power in the region. Today, what? What is it that U.S. policy requires from Egypt and Bahrain that necessitates supporting these regimes during these brutal crack downs?

How should we view American policy toward the Middle East? What is the larger strategic framework within which we ought to view the various relationships? What is the optimal posture for the United States? Folks, I don’t know. I’d love to know your opinions on the subject.

8 thoughts on “On “Leverages””

  1. Our policy towards these regimes is interest, inertia, buffeted by transient deltas in the Bell curve of repression.

    And when we support seeming democratic movements, we end up with worse repression and new enemies.

    Fragile beauty shall not blossom on blasted soil.

    Any one in those countries who could actually make it better is in the West, in prison, or dead.

  2. @ elf: Elegant description of the status quo. Unfortunately….

    @ Michael K: I tend to agree but I read somewhere that the XL pipeline will use eminent domain to confiscate property? Is it an example of crony capitalism disguised as energy independence? Still, the point is the same. We can build refineries closer to the Canadian border and get the same result. I’m with you on the need to obtain more energy locally and maybe the XL pipeline can still be built without eminent domain (assuming I read all of that correctly).

    – Madhu

  3. “I tend to agree but I read somewhere that the XL pipeline will use eminent domain to confiscate property? Is it an example of crony capitalism disguised as energy independence?”

    Pipelines, like highways, railroads, and electric lines, have always used eminent domain to acquire their routes. It would be impossible to complete those projects without it. However, eminent domain requires the taker to pay fair market value for the property acquired. It is not confiscation. The Keystone people wanted permission, not money. It is not crony capitalism to let them spend their own money.

    “We can build refineries closer to the Canadian border and get the same result.”

    And how do you plan to get the product from those new refineries to their markets? The gulf coast refineries use pipelines for domestic transportation. And who will pay for the new refineries to replace the perfectly good ones we already have?

    Sometimes I just want to cry.

  4. We need to stop confusing getting slammed from pillar to post in the Muslim world with foreign policy. Our only interest in the region is helping Israel deal with the Mad Mullahs of Tehran. Beyond that, the Muslims can kill, cook, and eat each other. There will never be a just, democratic, liberal society in the Muslim world. And we need to stop worrying about it. We need to focus on things much closer to home, like transitioning Cuba from the Castro brothers reign of terror back to civilization, suppressing the civil war in Mexico, and and bolstering our allies on the western rim of the Pacific.

    Mike’s comment about Keystone is a conclusion to the argument that begins what if they cut-off the oil from the Persian Gulf. Well folks, that oil already costs $110/bbl. Our response needs to be to drill here, drill now, dill everywhere. Frack in NY state, Heck start at the corner of 42nd and 7th. Drill in California, use Robert Redford’s bedroom. Drill in the Arctic, caribou burgers for everyone. We may need to put a bounty on environmentalists and lawyers, but it shouldn’t cost much. I’ll bet that most of them will be stuffed and mounted as trophies.

  5. Pipelines are used for transport of refined product (gasoline, jet fuel, etc) as well as crude oil.

    The real alternative to the XL pipeline and its extensions is to use rail, in the form of unit trains, to haul crude from the Canadian and Dakota fields to the Gulf refineries. The economics aren’t as good as a pipeline, and surely the likelihood of spills is greater, but I think that if XL doesn’t occur, we will see a substantial amount of traffic of this kind.

  6. The aquifer that is the argument against XL already has pipelines through it. This is just dog in the manger environmentalism. There hasn’t been a new refinery built in decades. Same problem. Obama is defying a federal judge’s order to resume permits in the Gulf but they are slow walking it. Infuriating. If Iran really does attack Israel with nukes, that will be the end of middle east oil. Also the end of Persia according to Tony Cordesman’s study a few years ago.

  7. Aw, don’t cry Robert! :)

    I made the mistake of commenting on something I don’t really know much about aside from the energy related sites I follow. Oh wait, that’s all of my blogging. Drat….

    Anyway, I am a “drill here, drill now” kind of person and you know that because I’ve blogged it before!

    “Why is “drill here, drill now” not a national security imperative?”


    You know what’s weird? First, a lot of energy related sites were hyping XL and I thought, “probably industry related lobbying but still a good idea overall.” Now, a lot of negative articles are being written and some of the watchdog sites I follow are concerned about lobbying with the State Dept. and stuff like that.

    So, I still think the idea of shoring up our own energy resources in this hemisphere, developing them, and working more with the Canadians is a good idea. Maybe I’ll do a pro/con post on the thing if I get time.

    Thanks for the comments all!

    – Madhu

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