Chess and Foreign Policy

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Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster, has become one of the most prominent critics of Vladimir Putin in Russian politics. He publicly praised the recent opposition rally in Moscow. And then Russian federal agents raided Kasparov’s offices for being a voice of dissent, something that seems to be a mark of being someone who matters in Russia. And I guess it’s better than getting shot in the head like Anna Politkovskaya.

Normally I would only hear about Kasparov from my brother Matt, a veritable chess genius, but Kasparov is speaking about a game I’m more interested in: foreign policy. He wrote this piece critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Opinion Journal. I think it’s worth reposting quite a bit of the actual text:

For the past few years, the dictators and terrorists have been gaining ground, and with good reason. The deepening catastrophe in Iraq has distracted the world’s sole superpower from its true goals, and weakened the U.S. politically as well as militarily. With new congressional leadership threatening to make the same mistake–failing to see Iraq as only one piece of a greater puzzle–it is time to return to the basics of strategic planning…. 

The U.S. must refocus and recognize the failure of its post-9/11 foreign policy. Pre-emptive strikes and deposing dictators may or may not have been a good plan, but at least it was a plan. However, if you attack Iraq, the potential to go after Iran and Syria must also be on the table. Instead, the U.S. finds itself supervising a civil war while helplessly making concessions elsewhere.

This dire situation is a result of the only thing worse than a failed strategy: the inability to recognize, or to admit, that a strategy has failed. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon. Iran is openly boasting of its uranium enrichment program while pouring money into Hezbollah and Hamas. A resurgent Taliban is on the rise in Afghanistan. Nearly off the radar, Somalia is becoming an al Qaeda haven. Worst of all is the answer to the question that ties all of these burning fuses together: No, we are not safer now than we were before.

I think the situation in Somalia is particularly ugly, and have been meaning to write more about it. Kasparov is correct in his critique of our strategy, or lack thereof. But what suggestion does he offer? 

America’s role as “bad cop” has been a flop on the global stage. Without the American presence in Iraq as a target and scapegoat, Iraqis would be forced to make the hard political decisions they are currently avoiding. We won’t know if Iraq can stand on its own until the U.S. forces leave. Meanwhile, South Korea and China refuse to take action on North Korea while accusing the U.S. of provocative behavior. How quickly would their attitudes change if the U.S. pulled its troops out of the Korean Peninsula? Or if Japan–not to mention Taiwan–announced nuclear weapon plans?

From Caracas to Moscow to Pyongyang, everyone follows their own agenda while ignoring President Bush and the U.N. Here in Russia, for example, Vladimir Putin gets Mr. Bush’s endorsement for membership to the World Trade Organization while selling advanced air defense missile systems to Iran and imposing sanctions on Georgia, itself a WTO member….

Ok, so that was more criticism.

I won’t say things can’t get worse–if we’ve learned anything, it’s that things in the Middle East can always get worse; but at least the current deadly dynamic would be changed. And with change there is always hope for improvement. Without change, we are expecting a different result from the same behavior, something once defined as insanity.

I guess even a great strategist like Kasparov may be better at picking others’ plans about then suggesting a workable alternative. But I think he’s right that a significant shift in America’s foreign policy is necessary to curtail some of the rising conflicts in the world (if it’s not too late). About the only ‘proactive’ strategy I can offer is what I proposed in Why Both Parties Have It Wrong on Iraq.


(h/t to Tyler DiPietro.)

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