Wednesday, November 12, 2008

George Lopez: Prospects of an Obama Administration

Big Issues and WhatKnott
Kroc Institute Professor George Lopez paid a visit to Knott Hall for a meeting of Big Issues and WhatKnott this Monday. He provided some insider insight on potential appointees and the possible course of direction in a variety of foreign policy scenarios- including relations with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, and more.

I was lucky enough to capture the discussion in text for your reading pleasure. It is a bit lengthy and jumbled, but I did my best.


George Lopez: A Lefty's Exclusive Interview

What is interesting: it is not only rhetoric, but a reality to the bipartisanship effect of an Obama administration. For example:
• Creating a centrist foreign policy.
• Appointees like Richard Lugar, GOP, with expertise in denuclearization
• Nunn Lugar legislation
• For Lugar, make him either undersecretary or secretary of defense
• Bush Administration did away with arms control agency (ACTA), we may see revival.
• Possibly make Lugar ambassador to Russia.

Serious discussion about retaining Secretary Gates

• He is a viable centrist partner.
• There would be remarkable continuity for Afghanistan, Pakistan plans.
• Another possibility is Chuck Hagel for US ambassador to UN.
Thinks Obama is committed to new era of denuclearization
• Obama, as new as he is, understands complexities of arms control.
• Russia has a sort of technological itch from petrodollars.
• If we aren't careful, another arms race is a sliver away from us.
• Russians will likely try to close the gap if the US doesn’t stand down in their own tech advances.
• Obvious problem: loose nukes in hands of terrorists.
• We are seeing nuclear energy spread in Europe, other OECD nations.

No one knows what he will do with trade.

• Said he in campaign he would be opposed to sending jobs oversees, general protectionism. GL suspects this was a function of electoral politics. Not likely to see massive protectionism.
• We could see Susan Schwab, trade rep. as appointee. She is a centrist.
One of most significant appointments relate to economy.
• Undersecretary of Treasury, overseeing where money is going, looking into counterterrorist finance and dirty money.
• We may need to have lawyers, people with international finance degrees to go after bad money.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan
• For Afghanistan, appoint specialists to analyze what is possible.
• We may see a sort of surge in Afghanistan.
• Must remember that victory over Al Qaeda is key concern.
• Appoint Colin Powell, maybe Wes Clark to Secretary of State.
• Should listen to Barnett Rubin, Council on Foreign Relations fellows.
• We really don’t want to be in Afghan. For another decade
• Some, including Richard Clarke feel that military is too overstretched w/ Iraq to move in full force into Afghanistan.
• This creates dysfunctional soldier/citizens if they are overworked.
• Most critical element: whether each of those countries can mobilize elections and what results arise. There is a fear if Kurds don’t win violence may break out.
• Referendum on Kurdistan is important decision, deciding whether or not to be a sovereign state or not.
• He may revisit Hamilton and Baker recommendations on Afghanistan.


1) Explain relationship, tension between Petraeus and Obama.
• For US interests, the tension could be good.
• Petraeus feels Obama position about 16 month withdrawal is infeasible.
• When Obama spoke w/ Petraeus, he was forceful and inquired how Petraeus would enact his plan. Petraeus: we will operationalize it, it will be difficult
• Obama: what if we need to do it quicker?
• Once Petraeus came to Central Command, he realized he had valuable experience to help Afghanistan.
• Logical choice to is to move Petraeus to Joint Chiefs of Staff.

2) What will Obama do with Guantanamo?
• Divide detainees into 3 groups, based on guilt and reason for detention.
• Some will be put in American court system, possibly 2/3 of prisoners.
• Could see traditional war crimes trial, Nuremberg model.
• We could see authority given from UN Security Council.
• A standard military trial would be granted for those captured in combat, not those found randomly on hearsay.
• Whole process may be subject to judicial review.

3) How does the financial crisis affect Obama's ability to motivate EU military support?
• Obama is likely to cash in on his political capital earlier, using his mandate to work with Europeans quickly.
• Political economy shifts the possible options EU countries have.
• If economy is rosy: he can only ask stronger NATO presence if he gives NATO more power to decide what will happen politically in Afghanistan, Pakistan.
• An inhibitor: the missile systems in Poland are a barrier for both Germans and Russians, and hurts our ability to make deals with Germany and Russia.

4) What action might we see with Darfur?
• Nothing will make up for the last years of disposed peoples, lost lives.
• If Samantha Power becomes undersecretary human rights, we may see action.
• We should effectively work with African states to put pressure on Sudan.
• Work with China is key to cutting off oil trade with Sudan.
• Enforce the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese officials.
• What is needed is strong diplomacy, multilateral pressure to place on Sudan.

5) Why is China amoral in their foreign policy? What can be done?
• China has defined relationship with Sudan like the US does with Israel, blind trust.
• China needs to use economic leverage, demanding a stable Sudanese government.
• We must show that it is in China’s interest to have a stable Sudan

6) What is Obama's likely stance on Iran, Russia?
• The probability of attacks on Iran by Israel or US at lowest levels.
• Realistically, Iran is less of a threat. Russia is still biggest potential threat.
• Polish missile system program was a short-sighted punitive act.
• Obama administration has a clean slate with foes, which could be crucial.
• Boldness will be in repealing missile defense shields in Poland.
• Iran has an election. Best thing US can do: don’t give Ahmedinijad lever to rally support.
• We don’t want to give “concessions” to Russia, but use repeal as lever..

Additional Comments
-Obama is most definitely going to visit Britain first.
-We are likely to see less nepotism in appointments.
-we will probably see a restored balance of power with Congress and their role in national security.
-Economic situation, in certain ways, is worse than what FDR faced.
-Colleges will take huge hits. Endowments lose 25% of their value. Banks constrict their lending. Student loans become harder to get.
-Venezuela: Chavez will go away when he doesn’t have money to go around, appease voters.
-Interestingly, with an Obama Administration, John McCain has the power to push immigration reform through his party. There is a strong opportunity here.

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