The three countries mentioned in the title of this post more than anything else demonstrate the current state of US Grand Strategy, what it could be and what it currently is. The normalizing of our diplomatic relations with Cuba and the dire straights of the Russian economy show on one hand what a realistic and smart strategy can accomplish. While the continued quagmire of Iraq and the claims of the top U.S. commander overseeing the military mission in Iraq that a “minimum of three years” will be required for training showcase the failure of our strategy there.
With regards to Cuba, the move to normalize relations is a reasonable step forward. Despite the multitude of protests, that are based on a disconnect from reality, isolation has not worked. It is completely disingenuous of the critics of the President’s move to ignore our to trade with communist nations of China and Vietnam or the despotic kingdom of Saudi Arabia, all of which have horrible human rights records. While then protesting the opening of relations with Cuba because of their human rights record. The only reason for the protests that make any sense, is the critics desire to pander to the expat Cuban community in Florida. Many of whom despise the Cuban regime. Nonetheless, it was right of the President to do what he did. The opening will expose the Cuban people to the prosperity and multitude of choices that our system brings and could long term lead to a change in the island regime. That course of events is not guaranteed, but definitely better than the status quo, which benefits no one but the ruling communist elites.
The continues collapse of Russian economy is another example of what can be accomplished using realistic smart foreign policy strategy. The sanctions leading to collapse of the ruble, combined with the reduction of the oil price all point to an economy that is about to enter recession. The slow and steady strategy of targeted sanctions are truly bearing fruit and it is no surprise that the many critics of President’s strategy from this summer are quiet. There are no more pronouncements of Putin’s strategic brilliance. The events demonstrated that he is nothing more than a competent tactician with no strategic vision. The fact that Soviet Union experienced similar economic problems following the 1980’s oil price fall, and that Putin has done nothing to diversify the economy away from oil should speak for itself. This lack of strategic vision and strategic understanding could in the end be what brings him down. Though it is hard to see how he could have transformed the rentier state he rules into an industrial power house without true democratic reforms. At a certain point no matter how much oil you have you can’t create and innovative and prosperous economy without underlying democratic fundamentals. Much like Emperor Nikolas II of 1914, President Putin of 2014 should be thinking about what could happen a few years down the line if his country’s economy continues to tank.
Lastly to Iraq. The pronouncement that it would take three years to train Iraqis, is ridiculous. At what point will we actually hold somebody accountable for this waste of resources. There still has been no answer as to how ISIL could rise up from nothing in a few years to a dominant force it is today, while at the same time the Iraqi Army needs our continued help just to survive. The commanding general who made the “three year statement” is wrong or quiet simply does not understand the implications of what he is asking. He seems to simply pretend that the Iraqi Army has not already been trained by us for past nine years. If we continue to train the Iraqis, we are enabling their continued dependance on us. Or we are such terrible trainers that we don’t know who to teach. As mentioned in previous posts, the country of 20 plus million people should be able to confront the 50,000 estimate ISIL fighters without any help. The reason they do not is because of the continued crutch we are providing with our support. Until that support ends Iraq will never be able to stand on their own and the training will continue in perpetuity. Our policy should let Iraqis fight for their own country. We could still support them diplomatically, but they will have to make those hard choices.
The examples of Cuba and Russian demonstrate the slow transition that the US making with regards to a realistic foreign policy. The diplomatic steps taken with Cuba and Russia achieve our desired objectives with minimum of effort. They are and will be successful because they rely on a clear understanding of what works in a real world. If only we could make the same analysis with regards to what Iraq and Afghanistan need, then we could truly begin to transition from a Star Wars like foreign policy of the early 2000s towards a realistic foreign policy that actually achieves our objectives. Cuba and Russia are the moves in the right direction, hopefully Iraq and Afghanistan policy will transition to a similar, reality based policy.