Friday, December 5, 2014


"The commentary following the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been notably confused. Some observers have attributed his downfall to an overcautious approach to the events in Iraq and Syria; others have suggested that he was urging the White House to be more aggressive than it desired. In many ways, this ambivalence reflects the current state of thinking about foreign policy in Washington. While it is generally expected that the new Republican-led Senate will set a more hawkish tone, there is little evidence that public opinion is in the same place. With regard to the failure – whether temporary or permanent – to secure an agreement with Iran on nuclear matters in time for the 24th November deadline, a similar tension in analysis can be seen. State Department officials to whom we have spoken remain upbeat that a settlement is within reach. However, with a harder bipartisan line forming in Congress to constrain President Obama from lifting sanctions – one of the key preconditions of any deal – the way ahead has become more challenging for the Administration.  In the same way, Secretary of State Kerry will present mixed messages at next week’s NATO ministerial meetings. Policy toward Russia, Iraq and Afghanistan will all be on the agenda. On the former, a willingness to take a tougher line on sanctions is balanced against rising concern – albeit expressed only privately – that Ukraine’s post-election government formation is taking far too long and that economic reforms, especially on fighting corruption, still seem far ahead. With regard to Iraq, Administration officials feel that cohesion within the anti-ISIL coalition is strong, especially now that tensions with Turkey have eased. There is also a growing conviction inside the Pentagon that the intensive retraining program now underway with the Iraqi National Army coupled with the beginnings of a “reawakening” of some Sunni militias will yield sufficiently positive results to assuage the demands for the deployment of US ground forces. On Afghanistan, the US focus is shifting toward the economy in the realization that, with the near total drawdown of foreign forces, financial flows to the Afghan government will shrink drastically. Kerry will encourage his NATO partners to remain engaged in the country with civil projects.  Finally, the decision by OPEC to maintain production levels leading to a further drop in the price of crude oil had, we are told, a degree of political motivation behind it given the resultant negative consequences to the Russian and Iranian economies."

No comments: