Global Watercooler: Clapper’s Dose of Reality

Global Watercooler

Around the watercooler today: America’s top intelligence man warns Gaddafi might survive; France leads the way on Libya; the Economist pushes back on Eurozone collapse; and Joe Nye vs Fareed Zakaria on American decline.

Clapper’s Dose of Reality

Leave it to the General James Clapper, the dour Director of National Intelligence, to provide a needed dose of reality in Washington. Having previously been closely associated with America’s certainty about weapons of mass destruction before its Iraq invasion, Clapper, like others of his profession, is being extra careful not to get this one wrong.

Clapper predicted in Congressional testimony that Libya may split into two or three regions or descend into Somalian anarchy. In either event, however, Clapper is putting his money on a Gaddafi victory unless there is some outside intervention to unsettle that. Tyrants survive for a reason: they have more resources and are more resilient than their opponents.

Bemoaning this possibility, Fareed Zakaria added his voice to those despairing over US and European passivity, noting, “President Obama has made it unambiguously clear that he wants Gaddafi to step down. The U.S. is actively seeking his ouster. To have him survive would be a humiliation for Washington at a moment and in a region where its words still have great impact. It would also send a disastrous signal to the other rulers of the region — in Syria, Algeria, Iran — that Mubarak made a mistake and that the way to stay in office is to engage in mass slaughter, scare the U.S. away and wait out the sanctions and isolation.”

U.S. Trails France in Democracy Promotion?

President Obama remains more than a step behind French President Sarkozy when it comes to the Mideast, and the credible talk in DC is that he’s happy to stay there.

France is taking the lead on Libya, as it became the first country to recognize the Libyan National Council (LNC), comprised of anti-Gaddafi rebels, as the country’s legitimate government. The United States followed up by suspending relations with the Libyan Embassy in Washington and declaring it would meet with opposition leaders next week. Next week may be too late though; Gaddafi’s forces have retaken the key town of Ras Lanuf from the rebels and may have an excellent shot at pushing further east to crush the rebellion.

Timing is everything. As Gorbachev once told the East German leader Walter Ulbricht, “He who comes too late will be punished by life.”

Meanwhile, leading Arab and Gulf ambassadors in DC complain that the Obama administration throughout the crisis has had little to no interaction with them or their top officials back at home to take a reading of their attitudes and analysis. One Arab official calls the White House crowd “the insular presidency.”

European Integration or Disintegration?

Peering into Europe’s long-term economic and fiscal future is a tricky business, but The Economist’s Charlemagne columnist is chiming in on the side of the skeptics – and against the FT’s Martin Wolfquoted in this space earlier this week. He is concerned over what may result from a greater push for integration to solve current European economic problems, cautioning “resentment on all sides is surging and governments in both camps are being weakened, whether for granting bail-outs or for accepting austerity.”

Painting the current “competitiveness pact” as a somewhat hollow instrument, he offers more substantive ways to achieve greater European competitiveness, including “more ambitious deepening of Europe’s single market, particularly in services” and inclusion in the pact of “some of the most open and competitive European economies, among them Britain, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic.”

He fears a pact insufficient to the task, since “In the short term, a less-than-grand bargain could trigger a new bout of market nerves. In the longer term the pact may lead not to competitiveness but to divisiveness.” Immediate events today did nothing to dispel long-term concerns: the euro fell against the dollar after Spain’s credit rating was downgraded.

American Declinists on the Rise

Throwing his hat into the ring on the renewed debate over American decline, Joseph Nye offers some reassurances for those who only see through the glass darkly. Responding to Fareed Zakaria’s recent case for decline, Nye reminds us that the United States has been sure of its decline at numerous points, including at its founding, but has gone on to thrive each time.

Says Nye, “The United States is still first in total R&D expenditures, first in university rankings, first in Nobel prizes, first on indices of entrepreneurship, and according to the World Economic Forum, the fourth-most competitive economy in the world” and “remains at the forefront of technologies of the future like biotechnology and nanotechnology.”

And, tackling the question of America’s relative loss of power to China, Nye cautions that greater Chinese economic strength relative to the US will not automatically translate into its taking the role of top world power. U.S. advantages include the fact that “China can draw on a talent pool of 1.3 billion people, but the United States not only draws on a (worldwide) talent pool of 7 billion, but can recombine them in a diverse culture that enhances creativity in a way that ethnic Han nationalism cannot.”

Asks Nye, noting that “Japan, India, and others that are concerned about the rise of China welcome an American presence, “Can anyone similarly imagine Canada and Mexico seeking a Chinese alliance to balance American power in their neighborhood?” The debate isn’t just academic. An Obama administration more confident about its role in the world might be a more assertive White House.

Fred Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. His latest book, Berlin 1961, will be available May 10. Compiled with Borjan Zic. 

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