Obama is still bluffing on Iran

An unexpected shadow was cast over President Obama’s swing through Southeast Asia last week by the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.  The diversion is interpreted by some as a sign of how the combustibility of the Middle East will undercut Washington’s much-ballyhooed “pivot” toward Asia.  As one commentator artfully puts it,

“Having [Secretary of State] Clinton fly directly from Asia to the fires in the Middle East reminds Asia that the conflict in Gaza and Middle East strife in general is like a jealous lover, always calling the U.S. high-level political focus away from Asia.”

This view is underscored in today’s Wall Street Journal, where columnist Gerald F. Seib writes that problems with Tehran will disrupt Mr. Obama’s entire second term agenda.  In his view, the intrusion on the presidential trip is “an apt metaphor for how hard it will be to execute the pivot toward Asia when Iran and the Islamists it inspires have the ability to create crises elsewhere.”

As many analysts see it, the monkey wrench Tehran wields is about to become a whole lot bigger in the months ahead as the showdown over Iran’s nuclear ambitions reaches a climax. Continue reading

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America’s Strategic Rebound: An Update

A few quick updates are in order for a regular theme in this blog: Amid a torrent of extravagant prophesying about how China is poised to conquer the world, technological innovations and private entrepreneurs are actually rejuvenating America’s strategic prospects.

As previous posts (here and here) have outlined, the marked surge in U.S. oil and natural gas production that has transformed the country’s energy outlook over the past five years promises to have far-reaching economic and geopolitical ramifications.  The unexpected energy boom is due to key strides in extraction technology – namely, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling – as well as advances in seismic imagining that have unlocked gas and oil deposits previously thought inaccessible within tightly-packed shale rock formations.

The huge impact of the shale energy revolution was highlighted in a report released yesterday by the International Energy Agency.  Calling the development “nothing short of spectacular,” the IEA’s World Energy Outlook forecasts that the United States will overtake Russia as the world’s largest producer of natural gas by 2015 and will come to rival Saudi Arabia in oil output by the end of the decade.  It also concludes that this country will largely achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2035.  A report last week by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries contains a similar analysis, finding that rising U.S. oil production will significantly decrease American dependency upon the cartel.

Another of my posts argued that among the foreign policy implications of the U.S. energy boom would be the denouement of Russia’s great power aspirations and the restoration of U.S. soft power.  Two articles in the current issue of Foreign Affairs underscore these themes:

  • Thane Gustafson, an expert on the Russian energy sector, writes that the oil revenues that have helped prop up the Putin regime are likely to decline in the coming years as oil production in western Siberia becomes more difficult and expensive.  In theory, Russia could reap the benefits of the shale revolution but Gustafson doubts that Moscow will be able to implement the legal and regulatory reforms that would foster the necessary innovations and entrepreneurship.
  • Ruchir Sharma, an expert on the global economy, argues that adulation about China’s state-centric brand of economic management that underpins confident predictions about its inexorable ascendancy is misplaced.  He notes that the country’s “population is simply too big and aging too rapidly for its economy to continue growing as rapidly as it has” and the resulting slowdown will effectively rebut the “notion that China’s success demonstrates the superiority of authoritarian, state-run capitalism.”   He concludes that “the new global economic order will probably look more like the old one than most observers predict.”

Memo to the Next President: The Boldness of Enterprise and U.S. Strategic Revival

Honoring the vitality of America’s private sector

The docket of whoever wins today’s presidential election will quickly fill up with unsolicited advice, so I’ll get mine in preemptively: When the White House decides on the next set of recipients for the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian award – George P. Mitchell* and Elon Musk deserve to be on the roster.  Amid astounding prophecies of how China is set to rule the world (here and here), they exemplify Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic observation that “Boldness of enterprise is the foremost cause of [America’s] rapid progress, its strength and its greatness.”

Established in 1963 by President Kennedy, the award recognizes individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”  Presidents have tended to devalue the honor by giving it as a sort of commemorative badge to outgoing officials of their administrations.  But the upcoming selection offers an opportunity to underscore how America’s strategic prospects are being revived by the dynamism of its private sector. Continue reading