CNAS, the little think tank where I hang my hat, picked a new president yesterday: Richard Fontaine. He is a smart, even-keeled guy who used to be the foreign policy advisor to Sen. John McCain.
But I don't think picking Fontaine is a make-nice-with-Republicans move. Rather, I think that Fontaine is a young, energetic guy who cares about national security, understands the unusual culture of CNAS, and would make a good president of the place. He is also a great listener, an unusual quality in Washington.
As a bonus, the selection of Fontaine will flummox those who contend that CNAS is a stalking horse for Obama administration policies. Plus, I continue my streak of reporting to someone about half my age, which is fun.
By Patrick McKinney
Best Defense department of Maghreb affairs
In late October 1956, British and French forces aided Israel's seizure of the Suez Canal from Egypt. In March 2011, an allied force including British and French forces intervened in Libya to establish a no-fly zone and protect rebels from the ruling Gaddafi regime. Half a century apart, these actions in North African defined trans-Atlantic defense. The Suez Crisis heralded an era of American leadership and action, while Libya has shown that, though powerful, America intends to rely on its allies to carry larger burdens, and take responsibility for their own regions. America once drove and financed western security, but due to fiscal shortfalls and a decade of conflict, it no longer intends to guarantee European security.
In 1956, the once-powerful European states were still weakened from the world war and faced forceful colonial independence movements. The French lost Indochina in 1954 and the situation in Algeria continued to deteriorate, while the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt was England's last foothold in the Middle East. After tense negotiations, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to nationalize the canal as sovereign Egyptian territory, and in response, Israel, England, and France coordinated an invasion with the pretext of securing the canal for world commerce. They failed to inform the United States of their intent and expected American support or indifference. To their surprise, they received neither.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower forcefully protested the Suez invasion and demanded that foreign forces withdraw from Egypt. Though he had little compassion for Nasser and his regime, Eisenhower intended to support international order and avoid unnecessary international conflicts. He condemned the invasion, saying, "We believe these actions to have been taken in error. For we do not accept the use of force as a wise and proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes." Israel, England, and France were surprised by the American response and false expectations of support. Their forces began withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone, and returned control to Egypt.
After the conflict, American authority and consent became pre-eminent in the Trans-Atlantic partnership. Through NATO, America assured European defense from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and American priorities were NATO's priorities. England lost its Middle Eastern influence and decided to influence western and world security through cooperation in its "special relationship" with the United States. Embarrassed and affronted by the perceived betrayal, France took the alternate path and sought to set its own defense priorities. France demanded a restructure of NATO leadership in 1958, and began the withdrawal of its forces from the command in the 1960s. France remained outside of NATO for more than forty years until operations in Afghanistan and officially returned its forces in 2009.
Hmm -- this must be a new category of NATO partner, one that shoots at our helicopters, proliferates nuclear weaponry, and plays footsie with terrorists.
By Elizabeth Flora
Best Defense aging alliances deputy bureau chief
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stopped by SAIS last week as part of a tour across America to promote the geriatric alliance's purported current and future relevance. In addition to dishing out the usual mush about the alliance, he fielded questions about current security challenges:
On Libya: When questioned on whether or not NATO would engage in nation-building in a "post-Qaddafi era," he said that it will have a "role to play" in the transition to democracy, especially by ensuring that the military can be controlled by a new government. Fortunately, he did not have to answer when this era will emerge.
On Afghanistan: His recommendations have not changed in the post-bin Laden era, which call for the same timeline with a contingent of non-combat troops remaining past 2014, when Afghans should "stand on their own feet" but "will not stand alone."
On Pakistan: However, to accomplish success in Afghanistan, NATO will need a "positive engagement" and "partnership" with Pakistan. "Despite recent events" and "many questions that need to be answered," Rasmussen said that "we appreciate" that Pakistan has "taken steps" against terrorism in the border region, but in an diplomatic understatement, "we do believe there is potential for strengthened efforts."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.