Robert A. Manning

  • The Engagement Fallacy

    One of the great (and ridiculously overused) foreign policy buzzwords of our times is engagement.  Do we “engage” (pick your poison) Iran, North Korea, Hamas, and so on?  We speak of engagementas if it were not a means to an end, but an end in itself. 


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  • Must Reads for a New Administration

    Must Reads for a New Administration

    For those entering policy-making positions in government, the flood of recommendations, policy reports and analyses that land in their in-box can be overwhelming. Some of these may actually be helpful. But put them aside for now. What makes or breaks those in senior positions is their judgment. And what matters most in shaping judgment is core ideas, understandings and concepts. So rather than bury nominees awaiting confirmation in an avalanche of information, the following are a few essential reads that can be enormously useful to provide perspective and context for an official thinking their way through knotty policy problems:


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  • Energy Independence Fallacy

    A smart energy policy is one that successfully integrates energy security (adequate, reliable supplies of energy at reasonable prices), national security and climate change policies so that they are not pulling in opposite directions.  President-elect Barack Obama’s choices of former EPA administrator Carol Browner to coordinate energy and environment policies, and of Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley lab, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who has been on the cutting edge of trying to develop new, non-carbon energy technologies suggests such an intention. 


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  • While We Weren’t Looking…

    Dmitri Medvedev and Hu Jintao

    The Atlantic Council’s Robert Manning recently focused our attention on the October Asia-Europe Summit in Beijing.  We Americans might have missed the significance of the emerging multipolarity and shifts in global power while up to our elbows in election politics and financial woes.


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  • Sneak Preview of the Future: Who Makes New Rules?

    Don’t look now, but much about last week’s Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) – from its remedies for the financial meltdown to its obscurity in the U.S. – spoke volumes about emerging multipolarity and the historic shift in global power.  Was America watching?


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  • Not Quite So Green: Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for Copenhagen

    As the world gears up for the UN Climate Change extravaganza (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCC) in Copenhagen in December 2009, achieving a serious accord to establish post-2012 commitments that could slow or halt global warming increasingly appears a mirage.


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  • The End of Ideology: We Are All French Now

    For many free-market conservatives, the $700 billion financial stabilization plan was a bitter pill that in the end, many swallowed. “It is financial socialism,” complained Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), “it is un-American.”


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  • Russia a Rational Actor? Nyet!

    After all the huffing and puffing about what civilizations don’t do in the 21st century (does Abu Ghraib ring a bell?) on the one side, and finger-wagging about spheres of influence on the other, what does the Georgia tragedy add up to? Is cooperation with Russia fading beneath a new Cold War? Is Russia facing unintended consequences by turning the states in the former Soviet Union and ex-Warsaw Pact that they are trying to put on notice toward the West -- not to mention further damaging their own sinking economy and financial markets?

    There is no debate about the nastiness and bloody-mindedness of the Russian military expedition under the eerily familiar pretext of protecting its citizens. The dominant view in the U.S. seems to be something close to a comfortable reversion to a Cold War paradigm of Russia; though some, while also condemning Russian behavior, argue that the U.S. and NATO crossed one too many of a resentful Russia’s redlines, particularly in disputed territories on its border. The two competing views were nicely summed by James Traub in a NYT analysis: “It is either an expansionist, belligerent power whose ambitions are insatiable or a ‘normal’ state seeking to restore influence and regional control along its borders, commensurate with its wealth and power.”

    The problem is that is it neither, but rather, a bit of both, driven more by a sense of grievance and seething resentment than rational calculation of its broader self-interest. Therein lies the policy dilemma. For Washington, it is a question of supporting a democracy; for Moscow it is visceral nationalistic reaction to a troublesome neighbor. It appears a case of values bumping up against interests.

    It might be argued that all are rational actors within their own internal logic: The U.S. values safeguarding democracy in Georgia ahead of its relations with Russia; Moscow places dominating its “near abroad” more than its economic interests and integration into the world system; and Georgia had reason to believe assault on South Ossetia would not trigger a full-blown Russian invasion.


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  • Saudis Better Prepared for Post-Oil World?

    It may be the ultimate irony of our horrendous energy predicament. Amid all the talk and admonitions about “foreign oil” and alternative energy, it appears the Saudis and the other Persian Gulf oil and gas exporters are further along in preparing to diversify their economies for a post-petroleum world than the United States.

    While we hotly debate about secondary, short-term issues like offshore drilling, the Arab Gulf oil exporters have been quietly taking advantage of one of the greatest transfers of wealth in history: Mid-East oil exporters income from the world’s oil addiction is projected to reach $800 billion in 2008. Unlike last time around in the 1970s, the Arabian Gulf states (when they are not busy buying stakes in US financial firms) are recycling much of their oil billions into investment in non-energy industrial development in the region, looking ahead to 2020 and beyond.


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  • Own Goal: Undermining the Restoration of America’s Image

    One of the most embarrassing, counter-productive moments in soccer is when a player trying to defend against a score accidently kicks the ball into his own goal. Sadly, well-meaning politicians, in a misguided attempt to restore America’s image and clout abroad, may be committing the political equivalent of an Own Goal.


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