Category: Peter Feaver
Feaver: Atlantic trade accord could be boom or bust for U.S.
| February 22, 2013 | 3:33 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy, February 22, 2013

President Obama’s surprise announcement in his State of the Union address that he plans to start talks on a free trade deal between the United States and the European Union could serve as a boon to the nation’s economy or a bust for the nation’s competitiveness. Though reaching any sort of deal will be difficult, leaders in the United States should avoid a proposal that could make American markets more like their European counterparts and should instead seek a plan that helps introduce the best of the American labor markets to the EU in order to boost growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

A successful free trade agreement (FTA) will achieve the following: expand U.S./EU trade, renew the Atlantic political/economic alliance, improve competitiveness in both markets, and set a benchmark for future trade accords.

In order to walk across the finish line together, the United States and the EU must effectively resolve their differences on two key economic policies.

Full post here

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Feaver: General Allen’s departure is unfortunate but not a civil-military scandal
| February 19, 2013 | 4:25 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy, February 19, 2013

It is customary for beltway types to snicker when a senior official in the government indicates that he or she is stepping away from power in order to “spend more time with my family.” I think that attitude is unfortunate and regret having done my fair share of snickering in the past. The truth is that service at the highest-most levels of government can be exceptionally demanding, and it is usually the family that pays the biggest price. So I now have a rule of thumb that presumes any such claim is true unless there is strong evidence to the contrary.

That is how I reacted to the news that will General Allen turn down a possible assignment to be SACEUR. General Allen’s explanation — that after multiple combat tours he needs to spend more time with an ailing wife — rings true to me. And after checking with some people who are in a better position to know, I am even more confident of this judgment.

Some critics have charged that General Allen was forced to step away, raising questions about a growing politicization of the military engendered by a hyper-partisan White House. The White House did do something like that with respect to General James Mattis, so the allegation was not wildly implausible. But in Allen’s case, I do not think it was correct.

Full post here

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Feaver: Hagel’s views on when and how to use military force and civil-military relations
| February 12, 2013 | 12:06 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy, February 12, 2013

Over on The Daily Beast I have a piece, co-authored with my long-time comrade-in-scholarly-arms Chris Gelpi, looking at whether Senator Chuck Hagel’s views about when and how to use force are out of step with the military rank and file.

Drawing on a book we published some time ago, we argue that Hagel’s reluctance to intervene in Syria is fully in keeping with what might be called a “military dove” position. The military and veterans of the military like Hagel are particularly reluctant to intervene in humanitarian and nation-building missions, and this is fully in keeping with Hagel’s oft-expressed opposition to such missions. Hagel’s strong opposition to the Iraq surge and his tepid support-cum-skepticism regarding the Afghanistan surge less readily fits the military profile, for we found that the military tend to oppose interventions but favor higher levels of escalation once an intervention has occurred. That is, we found that in general the military favor what has been called the Powell Doctrine: Use force rarely but decisively. Non-veterans in the civilian elite, by contrast, were more willing to intervene, even in humanitarian scenarios, but also more willing to see those interventions constrained and at lower levels of escalation.

Full post here

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Feaver: Two new questions for Hagel’s confirmation hearing
| January 28, 2013 | 3:07 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy, January 28, 2013

The weekend’s reading in the Washington Post turned up two intriguing bits that could profitably be explored in Senator Hagel’s forthcoming confirmation hearings. Neither is a game-changer or a show-stopper. I continue to believe he will be confirmed and I expect he will have plausible answers to both of these questions. But it would be revealing to hear those answers and the process of thinking them through might even help him be a better secretary of defense.

First, what does the Obama administration consider to be the necessary legal conditions for the use of force abroad? The question arises out of an interesting bit in Saturday’s storyabout internal deliberations over whether and how much to assist the French in the Mali operation. There are numerous legal hurdles, including some domestic ones related to assisting governments after a coup (among its myriad troubles, Mali suffered a coup last year). But the part that interested me was this brief reference to other international legal hurdles:

“At the same time, U.S. officials were unsure whether they could legally aid France’s military operations without a United Nations or other international mandate.”

Now, I well understand the political desirability of international mandates, and I also know what the UN Charter stipulates. Since the Mali government asked for aid — no, begged for aid — the self-defense exception of the UN charter would seem to be easily met. Perhaps there was some legal confusion regarding whether a post-coup Mali regime was more legitimate than the militant islamists attacking the government from the north? Or perhaps there was something else at work, with the Obama administration entertaining a more stringent standard than U.S. governments had hitherto required for military action? If the latter, that would seem to be quite newsworthy with profound implications for coercive diplomacy in other settings: does the Obama administration believe it has the requisite legal predicate for military action in Iran (setting aside the policy wisdom of such action), or would it require a new and specific UNSCR or NATO authorization? What are legal options if we have neither a new UNSCR nor NATO authorization?

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Feaver: The Hagel hearings and the Iran use of force question
| January 9, 2013 | 9:49 am | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Shadow Government at Foreign Policy, January 8, 2013

Is it possible that the debate and vote on Senator Hagel’s confirmation for secretary of defense will be the closest the Senate comes to a debate and vote on the use of force in Iran?  As the administration showed on Libya, President Obama believes he can use military force without a prior congressional vote. The administration would be very wary about asking for something it is not absolutely certain it could get, and it would have to be very uncertain of winning such an “authorization to use military force in Iran” vote. Accordingly, it is likely that, if it ever came to it, the Obama administration might believe it must use military force against Iran’s nuclear program without the kind of lengthy and contentious congressional debate that preceded the 2003 Iraq war and the 1991 Iraq war.

If my speculations are correct thus far — a big if, I realize — then a further, ironic speculation may also be correct: a vote for Hagel may be a vote against the use of force in Iran.

Let’s stipulate up front that hawks and doves alike would prefer a negotiated solution with Iran in which Iran verifiably abandoned its nuclear ambitions. The debate between hawks and doves is not a debate between those who think the use of force would be swell and those who know it would not be. It is rather a debate between hawks who think that the “unswell” military option is preferable to learning to live with an Iranian nuclear weapon (and/or accepting a hitherto unacceptable negotiated deal that could not be prevented from devolving into “learning to live with an Iranian nuclear weapons”) and doves who think that it is preferable to learn to live with an Iranian nuclear weapon than to resort to force.

Full post here

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Feaver: What Does Hagel’s Nomination Mean?
| January 8, 2013 | 2:58 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Shadow Government at Foreign Policy, January, 7, 2013

President Obama is set to nominate Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense and his team seems to relish the confirmation battle that will ensue. Obama is calculating that he will be able to rally enough wobbly Democrats and skeptical Republicans to overcome the strong opposition to Hagel. In the end, I think he is probably right: there is usually a strong presumption in favor of a president’s nominee and Democrats will be loathe to hand the president another personnel defeat so soon after he was forced to back off nominating Ambassador Susan Rice to be secretary of state. Lower ranking candidates are often stuck in limbo for long periods of time with senatorial holds, but it would be more unusual for one of the top cabinet positions to be blocked that way. Doubtless, Obama is calculating there will be lots of fireworks at the confirmation hearing, but eventually Hagel will get confirmed, albeit without the resounding and enthusiastic support that ushered in Obama’s first two SecDef picks (Leon Panetta was confirmed unanimously and Robert Gates, received a 95-2 vote when nominated by President Bush. Quick trivia quiz: Who voted against Gates? Two Republicans, Sen. Jim Bunning and Sen. Rick Santorum, though Senators Joe Biden, Evan Bayh, and Elizabeth Dole did not vote).

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Feaver: Does the GOP Need a New Foreign Policy?
| January 3, 2013 | 10:38 am | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Shadow Government at Foreign Policy, January 2, 2013

In the January/February issue of Foreign Policy, Danielle Pletka outlines how the Republican Party should position itself on international affairs in the wake of Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat in the 2012 election. “If the GOP is to stand for something more than lower taxes and smaller government” Pletka writes, “it must return to the moral vision of a world in which the United States helps others achieve the freedoms it holds so dear.”

So what’s the right path forward for a battered GOP? Here’s what contributors to FP’s Shadow Government blog had to say about Pletka’s argument — and the global posture the party should adopt in the future.

Peter D. Feaver:

The most important thing Republicans need to understand about U.S. foreign policy today is that Republicans are out of power and Barack Obama is in power.

That may seem obvious, but much Republican commentary seems to ignore it. Much of the post-election commentary seems divorced from the political reality that, especially in the area of national security policy, Democrats hold not just an advantage, but a decisive one (politically, that is, not substantively). Yes, Republicans hold the House, and Democrats lack a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But Obama has a much stronger political position than, say, George W. Bush enjoyed in 2005 (let alone 2007), and while second-term Bush faced great constraints on what he could do domestically, he was able to overcome those constraints in the national security arena. Obama will likely be able to prevail at least as often as Bush did.

Republicans will be able to influence foreign and national security policy, but only on the margins. We can and should make the case for key priorities — restoring U.S. leverage in the Middle East, thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, matching resources to goals in the Asia-Pacific, etc. — but we should recognize that Obama will have his way, and his way will likely increasingly diverge from what Republicans would wish him to do.

If the dominant theme of Obama’s first term was continuity — despite campaigning against Bush foreign policy, Obama continued far more of it than either side would like to admit — the dominant theme of the second term may well be change. In the coming years if not months, Obama will likely face pivotal decisions on Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and defense cuts, and on each one he is showing signs that he will decide in ways quite different from how a President Mitt Romney might have done. I am not sure what Republicans can do to change that trajectory.

View full post and others’ thoughts here.

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Feaver: Does Assad think Obama is bluffing?
| December 12, 2012 | 12:42 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, December 11, 2012

If you were Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, how worried would you be about President Obama’s threats regarding a U.S. response to any use of Syrian’s chemical weapons? A series of recent news pieces (here,here, and here) seem to suggest a depressing answer: not very much.

Ever since the civil war started, the nightmare scenario has been the prospect that the conflict would escalate to a point where Syria’s vast chemical arsenal was in play — either through a deliberate use or through a loss of custody. That nightmare seems ever more plausible as the civil war grinds on, particularly as the tide seems to be favoring the rebels. It is not impossible to imagine a rapid collapse of the Assad regime and, for that very reason, it is not impossible to imagine circumstances under which Assad would be tempted to gamble with a game-changer like chemical weapons.

President Obama has consistently warned that the use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer for American involvement, as well. The Administration has hitherto resisted calls to intervene more directly in the conflict, but it has also indicated that the United States would act militarily if chemical weapons were used.

How might Assad interpret that vague threat?

One can divide up the continuum of military response into five main categories, listed below in order of escalating involvement:

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Feaver: Should Obama listen to the conventional wisdom in choosing his national security team?
| November 28, 2012 | 4:50 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, November 27, 2012

President Obama seems to have two options in assigning the top three national security spots (Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Advisor): follow the conventional beltway wisdom or go his own way and do what he thinks is best.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama should pick a Democratic “dream team.” That would put Senator Kerry in the Secretary of State slot. He is the Democratic Party’s acknowledged congressional leader on foreign policy and would be a shoo-in to be confirmed. He has certainly earned the president’s favor, having rescued the administration from some tricky foreign policy predicaments, and he clearly wants the job. The Obama political operation appears willing to risk the Democratic Senate seat in the by-election to replace him. He will not have the celebrity star power that Hilary Clinton had, but there is no one (except her husband — or perhaps Colin Powell) who could come close to matching that anyway, and Kerry probably is the biggest name available. Secretary Clinton’s most important contribution to foreign policy in the past four years has been this high profile “face of America” role — certainly she had a bigger impact in that role than in shaping key policy debates inside the interagency — and so seasoned foreign policy hands recognize the importance of making a high-stature appointment.

Full post here

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Feaver: Can the Obama administration avoid a rising tide of war?
| November 26, 2012 | 5:16 pm | Peter Feaver | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, November 26, 2012

Are the tides of war rising or receding? That is the foreign policy question that occupied my attention this past holiday weekend, and in good academic fashion I can make a case for either answer.

On the one hand, President Obama has been claiming for years that the wars are receding, and this holiday snippet seems to bear him out: Ft. Bragg, the North Carolina home to some of the most deployed units in the U.S. Army, had the most troops home for Thanksgiving in years. The completed withdrawal from Iraq and the accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan means that, in sheer deployment numbers, the fewest number of Americans troops are in combat since the start of the Iraq war nearly a decade ago. Moreover, there were no surprise holiday visits by the president to troops in the combat zone, and the whole “wartime holiday” theme seemed more subdued — or perhaps just so routine as to be unremarkable. Still too many servicemen and women are dying, but suicide seems the growing threat, not IED’s and enemy action.

On the other hand, I spent as much time talking about war with friends and family as ever, the only difference was U.S. troops were not centermost (not yet, anyway). The raging civil wars in Congo and Syria and the intensified conflict between Israel and Hamas provided plenty of fodder for table debate. There were grim reminders from Afghanistan that the remaining Americans are very much in a combat zone.

Full post here

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