(Aug. 3) The Telegraph, London, on the West's debt crisis and the military — The U.S. debt debacle may signal the end of the American century not only economically, but also militarily and diplomatically. A minor exchange hinted at the shape of things to come. On a visit to Afghanistan, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by troops if they would get paid if the U.S. defaulted. “I really don’t know the answer to the question,” came the reply.
There, in a nutshell, is the new geopolitical reality confronting the U.S. It can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. A large slice of the $2.4 trillion cuts package will come out of the defense budget. President Barack Obama is already approaching foreign entanglements more as an accountant than a warrior. Few doubt that if the Americans had been fully engaged in the Libya campaign, Moammar Gadhafi would be long gone. The planned withdrawal from Afghanistan is driven as much by financial considerations as military and political ones. A former Pentagon official has calculated that it is costing $20 billion a year simply to supply air-conditioning to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such a swaggering, money-no-object approach to military deployments has been a feature of the U.S. in combat since World War II. No more, it would seem.
But it is not only the U.S. that is being forced to rethink its international posture because of economic circumstance. ... The Members of Parliament warn that the Coalition’s Strategic Defence and Security Review has not only left the military incapable of conducting the Afghan and Libyan missions effectively but has left the country without a full capability to defend itself, in the process reducing its standing in the world. ...
These are troubling developments. The West’s addiction to debt is proving even costlier than we feared.
(Aug. 2) The Mail and Globe, Toronto, on Obama’s values — The U.S. debt-ceiling crisis highlighted the precarious, brittle state of the U.S. economy and public finances. But the result, approved by Congress, also spotlights one of President Barack Obama’s most significant blind spots — his insistence on reasonableness in dealing with unreasonable political opponents.
The deal cuts federal spending by around $2.1-trillion over 10 years. That’s an impressive dent into the country’s debt, and so the compromise is, on one level, an appealing, bipartisan solution.
Go deeper, however, and Republicans seem to have outmaneuvered Obama and the Democrats at every turn. Poorer Americans such as housing-allowance recipients or Medicaid beneficiaries will be hit — either directly through the legislation, or by a congressional committee empowered to make up to $1.5-trillion in cuts. Tax reforms that would also have helped reduce the debt are entirely absent. The Tea Party succeeded in getting a requirement that a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution be tabled in Congress. It’s not surprising, therefore, that exactly half of all House Democrats voted against the deal.
That alone is a sufficient indictment of Obama’s leadership. But in remarks after the Senate’s approval, Obama asked Congress to take up his old economic agenda: more investment, and more talk of “a balanced approach where everything is on the table” to complete the task of deficit reduction.
It was as if Obama had forgotten what had just happened. He had taken most things off the table himself. ...
If only Obama could act on his words. His overriding instinct is to seek compromise and the middle ground. He needs to develop that other political instinct — to fight for his values.
(July 31) The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on North Korean uranium enrichment — The situation concerning North Korea’s nuclear development program changed dramatically when the country started openly enriching uranium. The challenge facing the countries concerned is to devise a formula that is acceptable to all parties involved despite their wide disagreements on some key issues.
The recent talks between senior U.S. and North Korean officials for the resumption of official negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions underscored the enormity of the challenge. The two-day meetings in New York, the first high-level talks between the two countries in one year and seven months, left no doubt that arduous and grueling negotiations lie ahead. As expected, the discussions produced no breakthrough as both sides argued their own positions and tried to sound out the other side’s intentions.
Yet it is good to see such a sign of fresh momentum for diplomatic talks over problems concerning North Korea. ...
North Korea’s claim that its uranium enrichment project is designed for peaceful use of nuclear power is hardly acceptable. ...
If it wants to convince the international community that it is only pursuing peaceful use of nuclear energy, North Korea needs to comply with the rules under the international framework for nuclear control.
North Korea is unlikely to abandon its nuclear arsenal, which is its key weapon to protect the regime of leader Kim Jong Il and also its principal bargaining chip.
If so, the five other countries involved in the six-party talks — Japan, the United States, South Korea, China and Russia — need to set a goal that convinces North Korea that it will be better off without nuclear arms and to work out a road map to reach the goal. ...