Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Make no entangling foreign frenemies

Ian Bremmer
Apr 16, 2012 18:09 UTC

It’s often said that kinship runs deeper than friendship. Lately, when it comes to chumminess among world leaders and their colleagues in neighboring countries, friendship has trumped citizenship.

Until recently, it was rare to find leaders willing to forge friendships with candidates across borders or to find would-be leaders campaigning inside foreign countries. There are good reasons for that: Candidates who cross these lines can find it harder to win elections or to govern once the electoral test is passed. Their foreign friends can pay a price for backing the wrong horse and for forfeiting a bit of diplomatic leverage once they find themselves sitting across the bargaining table from the man or woman they campaigned against. Consider three current examples.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for the re-election bid of French President Nicolas Sarkozy is especially startling. It’s hardly surprising that Merkel wants Sarkozy to win. The two leaders have forged a durable personal relationship as they navigated their way through Europe’s ongoing crisis of confidence. The French and German leaders deserve considerable praise for their well-coordinated bid to bolster the euro zone.

But for Merkel, there’s a big difference between privately willing Sarkozy on and campaigning at his side across France – particularly at a time when Sarkozy trails Socialist Party challenger François Hollande significantly in opinion polls. Given the populist mood in France, Merkel’s stated reasons for supporting Sarkozy – that he is a conservative candidate whose party is philosophically aligned with her own Christian Democratic Union – sounds less like a boost for his campaign than a nail in his coffin.

And in the end, Merkel will have important work to do with France’s next president, whoever that turns out to be.

The truth about Israel’s rumored strike on Iran

Ian Bremmer
Feb 9, 2012 17:39 UTC

At a time when President Obama has moved troops out of Iraq and is moving them out of Afghanistan, it’s looking increasingly like our worries in the Middle East are far from over. Maybe it’s not unprecedented, but it’s highly unusual for a sitting secretary of defense to worry in print (to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius) that Israel could launch a strike against Iran as early as this spring. The point of the Israeli attack, according to Ignatius and Panetta, would be to stop Iran before it begins building a nuclear bomb. The U.S. is saying that it would find such a move foolhardy, and yet also reassuring both the Israeli and American publics that it is committed to Israel’s security.

But it’s probably not Israel’s true intention to strike Iran anyway.

According to Ignatius and many others, the Israelis, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, believe that waiting for the U.S. to strike Iran is an unwise stance. That’s because the U.S.’s threshold for sufficient proof of a nearly finished or completed Iranian nuclear weapon is likely much higher than that of Israel. If such proof came to light, only the U.S. at that point would have the capacity to take out the leadership in Tehran singlehandedly. But such an operation would create a leadership vacuum and leave whoever was running Iran with the bomb. Right now, Israel feels that it can make a dent with its own operation, heading off Iran’s bomb-making before it becomes an issue only the U.S. can deal with. But the window for that option is rapidly closing.

Despite Panetta’s public warnings, and despite Israel’s sudden silence (which many are taking as a sign that it’s gearing up internally for such a mission as this one), an attack on Iran isn’t as likely to occur in the spring as Washington or Tel Aviv would have us believe. That’s because even though new U.S. sanctions on the country went into effect this week, the real test of Iran’s economic fortitude will come around July 1, when the European Union’s gradual introduction of a ban on oil from the country takes full effect. Unfortunately, even those sanctions are unlikely to do much to deter Iran, as India, China and African nations will likely continue to buy much of Iran’s oil production, and they will gain some concessions on price due to the artificially limited market. Nevertheless, Israel will presumably wait to see what happens.

  •