Assessing the Obama Administration

Question: What do you think of Obama’s plan to withdrawal from Iraq?

 

Richard Haass: I just come back from Iraq. I was there about 2 weeks ago.

My own view is that the various timelines of getting the United States out of [Iraq city] say by this summer ceasing all combat operations by Europe this summer and beginning all US forces out of Iraq over the next 2 and a half or so years.

I believe that there’s no way those timelines can be met and have Iraq not once again really descend into a lot more disorder. I simply do not believe that Iraq, the Iraqi police and military forces will be able and willing to take on those kinds of responsibilities. I don't believe that the Iraqi, Iraqi society has reached the point where we could be a self-sustaining orderly place without American forces there.

So, my hope and my prediction is, that sometime after next January‘s Iraqi national elections, the new Iraqi prime minister, and the president of the United States, are going to have to work out a new arrangement. So, essentially the reductions or draw downs in US forces will move more slowly.

And secondly we will keep some kind of residual force in Iraq that where there will not be a withdrawal. For my view is if we stick slavishly or automatically to this timelines, I don’t believe Iraq would be ready for the responsibilities that it would inherit if and when we left.

 

Question: Was “The Surge” the beginning of the end of the Iraq war?

 

Richard Haass: Well, not exactly.

The surge which really consisted of several pieces - there was the increase in US combat forces, there was the change of strategy, which is probably even more significant, away from offensive so called kinetic combat operations much more into a traditional counter insurgency strategy of clearing out the enemy, and then providing security to the citizenry, there was the diplomatic part of it of buying off a lot of the Sunni tribesmen and fighters, who had been directly or indirectly supporting radicalism and terrorism.

So all of these came together and indeed it was probably the most orderly decision making process of George W. Bush’s presidency and it showed. We’re a large outside disciplined force that it adapted its tactics and strategy, in this case to counter insurgency, could make a real difference.

In retrospect I think it was a smart thing to do. The problem now is whether we can use the time and space that the surge have created to help the Iraqis build up a self-sustaining police and military capability. And the jury is out. And I would simply say that probably the best we can hope for with Iraq is a somewhat messy future, not a future that looks like civil war, but it also won’t be a shining city on the hill.

And my view is that the best way to keep a floor under Iraq’s future, so it looks okay, is probably by keeping a residual American force for years to come or even longer. Now, this could become a fateful set of decisions for the Obama administration. It’s ironic that Barack Obama run against Iraq, said it was a terrible war of choice. He is going to probably face some fateful choices with Iraq about whether to continue with his timelines and then if he does, my fear is that then things will begin to unravel and any could face again some terrible decisions about whether to recommit US forces into a messy situation.

 

Question: How do you grade Obama on Iran?

 

Richard Haass: Well, he’s doing things that I support. I believe in diplomacy, I don’t believe in talking to…that talking to Iran somehow constitutes a concession or a favour. I think he’s right to drop the preconditions. What matters in the negotiation is not so much where you begin but where you end. So, I think all that is to the good. The problem is that he faces an extraordinarily difficult situation where the Iranians have gotten quite far, they’ve obviously already produced a large amount of low-enriched uranium.

If they were to put it back in their centrifuges and reinforce those centrifuges they could produce the basic stuff of a nuclear device and they would have to weaponize it. So my hunch is he is offering to change American foreign policy at a time when the Iranians are already pretty far down the path of having produced a raw material for a nuclear weapon and it’s not clear to me that the pace of the diplomacy can match the pace of technology and what’s slowing diplomacy down even more is the upcoming Iranian election.

But I think he’s right to try this because the two alternatives to negotiating a shilling, an acceptable shilling on the Iranian program one that we could conceivably live with.

The two alternatives are not attractive. The idea of using military force against Iran is unbelievably unattractive option because it’s not clear whether what would accomplish and it’s also clear the Iranians will retaliate in some expensive ways.

It also would drive the price of oil up dramatically, it’s something we don’t need. And it’s not at all attractive to live with in Iranian nuclear capability given Iran’s retorect, given its support for terrorism and giving that old place the Middle East on hair trigger and giving that other countries in the region could well follow suit and as bad as Middle East is right today, one can imagine a situation that will grow worse to say Iran, Israel, and half a dozen Arab countries over the next 25 years had nuclear capabilities so that would be a nightmare. So, I believe the president is exactly right to try to negotiate our way out of this.

I don’t think though negotiations can be expected to solve this if by solution you mean, come up with an Iran that is not rich in Uranium. My own hunch is that we would have to be prepared potentially to allow Iran to have an amount of Uranium. We could talk about the amount of Uranium, they’ve got the production capacity but it will depend upon I believe the level of inspections. We would have to be able to convince ourselves to a high degree that this is was all they had and what they had was not the sort of stuff that was so called weapon’s grade but rather it was the shortest stuff that you would need for a reactor to produce electricity.

Now, I would feel better if Iraq had the means and place to produce electricity and they don’t. So again you’ve got to be wildly suspicious but so far at least they haven’t cross that red line, they’ve not taken the so called low-enriched Uranium up to high enrichment but if they do, then Barack Obama could face one of the fateful days of his presidency considering that the Israeli’s might decide that isn’t tolerable or he himself might be pressured to declare it intolerable and then act upon it.

 

Question: Who is the Dick Cheney of the Obama administration?

 

Richard Haass: It’s a good question and after less than 4 months, it’s a little bit hard to tell. But, this is a president who obviously listens carefully to his own counsel. He’s got people like Bob Gates as the Secretary Defense who is I believe a lot of influence, he’s got a retired general as his national security adviser in the person of Jim Jones, you’ve got someone like David Petraeus, the Central Commander who obviously has tremendous influence both still over Iraq but also over the conflict in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen, is probably spending more time in Pakistan these days than he is in Washington, you’ve got a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is active plus you got any numbers of special envoys.

I would think the difference with the Bush administration is you actually have more players here that you don’t have necessarily any single person who might have quite the weight say of Dick Cheney but what you have is a large number of people and the real challenge with the administration I would think will be coordinating all these people and making tradeoffs because in addition to Iraq, Afghanistan, you do have the challenge in Pakistan, you do have the challenge coming because of Iran’s nuclear program and you’ve got all the issues that arise from everything with dealing with great powers, to North Korea, to the global economy, to climate change, to swine flu so it’s an enormously crowded foreign policy inbox and determining tradeoffs, priorities, sequencing, and so forth is going to be a real challenge for the administration.

 

Recorded on: May 08, 2009

 

Richard Haass grades the administration on Iraq and Iran and speculates on who is really running the show.

Related Articles

Major study: Drug overdoses over a 38-year period reveal hidden trends

It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction

From the study: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6408/eaau1184
Surprising Science
  • It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
  • If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
  • The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Keep reading Show less

Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.

Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
  • You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
  • This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.

Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.

The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.


How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.

Image: NASA
Surprising Science
  • Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
  • Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
  • The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.

The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.

To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.

In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.

An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."