Last week, I wrote a post on a quote that lit a conflagration.
Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the author of the Abu Ghraib internal investigation, told the Daily Telegraph that he had seen a set of photographs showing "torture, abuse, rape and every indecency"; the Obama administration had agreed to make the photos public, but then reversed its decision three weeks ago.
The blogosphere reacted with typical restraint. One post on the site of The American Prospect, for instance, demanded that Obama release all of the photos, even if they depicted rape, and even if they depicted the rape of a minor. (Wouldn't those photos be a felony to possess?)
At the time, I wondered whether it could really be true: why would Taguba, retired for more than two years, speak for the Obama administration, with which he had no relationship? How did he know which photos of the thousands taken the White House was considering releasing? And why would he give such an incendiary comment to a British publication?
Turns out, the answer's easy: Taguba told Salon's Mark Benjamin on Friday, "The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen."
Indeed, Taguba was referring to the Abu Ghraib photographs, which, famously and graphically, show sexual abuse, humiliation, degradation, and beatings. (The photos for which the ACLU filed a FOIA request allegedly show interrogations at facilities like Guantanamo Bay -- nobody outside the military and White House knows for sure.)
That's that, then -- a reminder, not a new story.
But it isn't the end of the much broader and much more important fight over what should happen to such photographs and videos.
On May 20, Senators Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman introduced the "Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009" to Congress. The bill would, in essence, classify all photographs and videos "taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." No Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, like the one the ACLU filed, could force their release. And the Secretary of Defense could renew the act every five years.
It seems to me to be a dangerous thing -- to group all photographs of detainees together, and ensure they never see light. This is no longer really about the Abu Ghraib photos; at this point, we know what happened, the perpetrators have been punished. But the Bush administration codified the abuse of detainees in secret prisons. It was systemic, and it was law. And if there are photographs of those interrogations, they should be open to FOIA requests, at the very least.
An International Herald Tribune survey of the popularity of international leaders in five European countries plus the U.S. found that the U.S. president is still overwhelmingly popular. 78 percent of those surveyed have a positive view of Obama, eight points ahead of the Dalai Lama. The nearest politician is Angela Merkel with 54 percent.
Another interesting result of the survey is that Vladimir Putin seems to be somewhat more popular in Europe than Dmitry Medvedev. Some of this can be chalked up to name recognition but its still a bit surprising given how Medvedev often seems to attend international meetings to play the part of the Kremlin's friendlier, pro-Western face.
Louis Susman, a retired vice chairman of Citigroup Corporate and Investment Banking, was nominated ambassador to Britain. (Fundraising for Obama: more than $500,000.) Former financial analyst Charles Rivkin ($100,000 to $200,000) will be America's man in Paris. And biotech lawyer John Roos (more than $500,000) will relocate to Tokyo. [...]
No doubt the new political appointees can handle the job. Roos, as CEO of a global, technology-focused law firm, understands trade issues likely to arise in Japan. Rivkin has international experience as a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy. And Obama's appointee to Great Britain, Louis Susman, speaks fluent English.
Heh. The truth is that there is indeed much doubt about whether Roos is the best man for the job, as the Japan Times reports:
Roos is almost unknown among U.S. and Japanese officials and experts. Because he has no diplomatic and security experience, some doubt has been raised about his qualifications at a time when North Korea's nuclear and missile threats are mounting.
The choice of Roos, described as a "virtually unknown lawyer," is creating some angst in Tokyo:
Yoshimitsu Nishikawa, a professor of international relations at Toyo University, said the nomination is a "sign of Japan passing," and that Roos appears to lack diplomatic experience and is unlikely to be deeply knowledgeable about the Japan-U.S. relationship.
The Japanese press even has a dismissive term used to describe the Roos nomination and others like it: ronkokosho or "honoring past services," referring to the funding support Roos provided during the campaign.
See David Rothkopf's take for more.
Choe Sang-hun, reporting for the New York Times, speculates that North Korea's nuclear test surprised the United States and South Korea:
The test appeared to have caught South Korea and the United States off guard, and the news hit just as South Korea’s government and people were mourning the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun.
If officials were caught off guard, it wasn't because they weren't expecting a nuclear test. News organizations had been reporting on preparations for a possible test for weeks, citing South Korean officials. Then, of course, there is the fact that North Korea had also been warning it would do exactly this since April.
North Korea may, however, have pulled off its test earlier than expected. Experts mistakenly thought it would take weeks to make all the necessary preparations, as was the case when North Korea conducted a less-successful test in 2006.
"North Korea seems to want a speedy game," one senior South Korean official told Yonghap. "It seems to be seeking to create a condition favorable to itself as early as possible, rather than dragging its feet."
“The suddenness of the nuclear test shows North Korea following military, not diplomatic logic,” Hideshi Takesada, a Korea expert at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies, told Bloomberg.
Kenneth Quinones, a former North Korea director at the U.S. State Department, thinks the launch means that the generals are running this show.
"They’ve convinced Kim to bulk up their military capabilities in advance of any diplomacy,” Quinones told Bloomberg. “But they’re painting themselves into a corner."
I'm not sure what Quinones means by that, but from past experience, the North Koreans have to be thinking that their position going into any talks is going to be stronger now. Their first nuclear test in 2006 was most likely a dud, but it brought the Bush administration to the table. Imagine the goodies they'll get now that, as it appears, their device actually works?
Interestingly, South Korean presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said that North Korea may have even notified the United States ahead of time, and a "diplomatic source in Beijing" told reporters that China was given a head's up as well.
Also noteworthy: North Korea fired off three surface-to-air missiles after its test, two of which were reportedly a warning to U.S. spy planes to back off, according to Yonhap.
When I registered last week to attend Dick Cheney's speech today, I already knew it was going to be a big event, but with President Obama's Guantanamo speech immediately preceding it and the ensuing "dueling speeches" hype, AEI's Wohlstetter Conference Center took on the atmosphere of a prize fight, complete with the obligatory famous (for D.C.) attendees.
We watched Obama's speech on an overhead projector and when it ended, I half expected the room to go dark for Cheney's introduction. (AEI president Arthur Brooks makes a somewhat unsatisfying Don King figure.)
The "duel" theme felt especially strange since Cheney's speech wasn't really a rebuttal to Obama's in any real sense. Cheney's prepared remarks were passed out before Obama's speech had even ended and except for a shortened introduction, he didn't deviate from them at all.
In some sense, it would have been nice to hear actual dueling speeches in which the former vice president would actual respond to the points Obama made. For instance, Cheney repeated this currently popular talking point:
Attorney General Holder and others have admitted that the United States will be compelled to accept a number of the terrorists here, in the homeland, and it has even been suggested US taxpayer dollars will be used to support them. On this one, I find myself in complete agreement with many in the President’s own party. Unsure how to explain to their constituents why terrorists might soon be relocating into their states, these Democrats chose instead to strip funding for such a move out of the most recent war supplemental.
But Obama had already denounced this argument as a scare tactic and made this point:
We will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders – highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal "supermax" prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.
I would have liked to hear Cheney's response to this point (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also can't be thrilled that Dick Cheney is now his highest profile ally in this fight).
As another example, Obama's point that "unlike the Civil War or World War II, we cannot count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end" was a fairly good rebuttal to Cheney's arument that because there has not been a repeat of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration's antiterrorism tactics should be "continued until the danger has passed." Of course, it's unlikely to ever be clear when the danger has passed, meaning that the extraordinary authority that Cheney believes the president should be afforded will only be afforded at the president's own discretion.
At the same time, Cheney made some points that it would have been enlightening to hear Obama respond to as well, such as the new study Cheney highlighted showing that one in seven released Guantanamo detainees returns to terrorism or his admonishment of the administration for revealing details of interrogation methods without releasing the information they were used to obtain.
But in the end, the "dueling speeches" set-up has to be counted as a victory for Obama. The format increased the attention paid to Cheney's speech and the fact that much of what Cheney said had already been answered by Obama, made the Republican position look out of touch with recent developments. The administration seems to have decided that the best way to make its case is to set up Dick Cheney as the face of the opposition. Still, a real debate between these two would have been pretty fascinating.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on a leaked Pentagon document showing that one in seven detainees released from Guantanamo has returned to terrorism.
An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.
The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January. Past Pentagon reports on Guantánamo recidivism have been met with skepticism from civil liberties groups and criticized for their lack of detail.
The one-in-seven statistic is problematic. It might be too high. It might be too low. The category of "terrorism or militant activity" is broad; tracking released detainees and determining what they're doing -- that's not easy.
It's clear that the finding will put additional pressure on Obama administration officials to hold detainees, rather than release them.
More interesting will be the reaction of Bush administration defenders to this statistic. Does it mean we're minting terrorists in Guantanamo? Or does it mean these people were always too dangerous to release?
U.S. President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney are both giving national security speeches on Guantanamo Bay policy this morning -- Obama at 10:10 (he isn't on yet) and Cheney at 10:45. FP's Joshua Keating is at AEI to see Cheney, and he'll report back later today.
Update: Here's the text of Obama's speech.
On all of these matter related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there is a simple formula. But there is not. These are tough calls involving competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don't know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.
In all of the areas that I have discussed today, the policies that I have proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we have banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are closing the prison at Guantanamo. We are reforming Military Commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and narrowing our use of the State Secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our approach to national security on a surer, safer and more sustainable footing, and their implementation will take time.
Reuters reports that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is canceling his trip to the United States in order to grieve over the death of his grandson. But, like everything else about the opaque Mubarak regime, it's not totally clear what's going on. It was the White House that broke the news of the cancelation, and Egyptian officials aren't commenting. Nor did Mubarak, who is 81 years old and is often rumored to be in poor health himself, attend his grandson's funeral yesterday.
Although conspiracy theories are likely to proliferate rapidly in Egypt, the simplest explanation is probably the correct one here: Mubarak wants to grieve for his grandson. His visit to Washington was scheduled for May 25, which isn't too far off. And U.S. President Barack Obama is coming to Egypt in early June, soon enough that they can conduct whatever business they need to conduct at that time. I doubt Mubarak was too concerned about what seemed to be a fairly mild groundswell of criticism of his regime.
I guess we'll have to wait to apply the "Mubarak Test" to Obama's human rights policies.
"Today, to be very blunt with you, I personally, and the leadership of my country is worried ... about the direction of your country and your future." ...
"The only real future is to join Europe," Biden said. "Right now you are off that path. You can follow this path to Europe or you can take an alternative path. You have done it before," Biden said, referring to the 1992-95 war.
"Failure to do so will ensure you remain among the poorest countries in Europe. At worst, you'll descend into ethnic chaos that defined your country for the better part of a decade."
The parliamentarians apparently cheered at the end of the speech, but given that Biden is already not exactly loved by ethnic Serbs who resent the strong anti-Serbian stance he took during the 1990s, I'm not sure that this kind of lecture is exactly productive.
What the vice president said is probably correct (and as Edward Joseph points out, he's probably the only one in a position to say it) but this is precisely the sort of thing you normally say in a closed-door meeting with a country's leaders, not in a public address before its parliament.
Biden's boss said last month that the United States has, in the past, "shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe and vowed to change the tone. But Biden essentially telling Bosnia to follow his recommendations or continue to be known as a violent, poverty-stricken hellhole is American arrogance of near-Rumsfeldian levels and seems very much at odds with the administration's stated approach to foreign policy.
This afternoon, the Senate Democrats blocked the $80 million the Obama administration requested to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and relocate the people imprisoned there. The New York Times explains:
Mr. Obama, who on Thursday is scheduled to outline his plans for the 240 detainees still held in the prison, has faced growing pressure from lawmakers, particularly Republicans, to find a solution that does not involve moving the prisoners to the United States.While Democrats generally have been supportive of Mr. Obama's plan to close the detention center by Jan. 22, 2010, lawmakers have not stepped forward to offer to accept detainees in their home states or districts. When the tiny town of Hardin, Mont., offered to put the terrorism suspects in the town's empty jail, both Montana senators and its Congressional representative quickly voiced strong opposition.
This might be a good thing.
Why? Senators have a clear reason to withhold the funding. As members of Congress, they answer to their home districts -- and the detainees pose the ultimate case of NIMBY. Some are arguing that the detainees are highly dangerous and the Obama administration hasn't proven it can keep Americans safe. (I'm not so sure. If there's one thing the U.S. does well, it's incarceration.) The NYT again:
Senate Democratic leaders insisted that they still supported the decision to close the prison, were simply waiting for Mr. Obama to provide a more detailed plan, and had acted to avert a partisan feud that would only serve as a distraction and delay a military spending measure, which is needed to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and some other national security programs through Sept. 30. Mr. Obama had requested the $80 million be included in that bill.The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, indicated that the administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to close the camp and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama presents a "hefty part" of his plan to deal with the detainees.
And I think, perhaps, the Senate might not be acting as a block to the Obama administration as much as an aide to its ambitions. It hasn't yet figured out where to send the Gitmo prisoners, or how to try them, or whether to repatriate them. That's going to take time. (The Thursday announcement will be particularly interesting now.)
If the Senate Democrats withhold this funding, the Obama administration gets to scapegoat Congress for any future delays, while also getting to figure out the best way to proceed -- the best way to ensure U.S. safety, use U.S. resources, and deal with this enormously complex problem.
There are lots of great reasons to visit Ghana, as Barack Obama announced last week that he will do this coming July. The country was recently host to succesful democratic elections; its tourist industry is certainly one of the best in West Africa (not only is the country home to the Cape Coast and other attractions, but the buses run on time); it has a great soccer team; and the country's economic growth has been impressive. As Ghana's Black Star News concluded: "Ghana is being rewarded for good governance, good economic management, and the rule of law."
But here's another interesting tidbit about Ghana: it just found oil -- estimated over 600 million barrels -- making it one of Africa's largest future producers. Production hasn't started yet, but when it does, the government will no doubt feel a boost in revenue, estimated as high as $1 billion annually.
Wouldn't it be nice to buy oil from a country with a relatively clean record in human rights, governance, and economic management? That's a far cry fro the United States's third-largest current supplier, Nigeria, just next door. Of course, there are worries that Ghana could fall into the same rent-collecting state model, but it seems determined to resist that slip. And maybe that would be a good topic for Obama to pointedly discuss while visiting.
Who knows if this is really part of the reason for the visit, but it does seem like something that could figure into that "range of bilateral and regional issues" the White House plans to discuss with Ghanaian President John Atta-Mills.
UN Dispatch's Mark Goldberg wrote for The New Republic yesterday that Sri Lanka -- the first humanitarian crisis to unfold entirely under the new administration -- has been handled more or less well. His point is an excellent one: the United States has pushed to delay an IMF loan to the country until certain conditions are met. "With this move, the Obama administration has, literally, put its money where its mouth is," Goldberg writes.
All true, and a good start. As Goldberg admits, it's just that: a start. Still, several points are left dangling.
First, the Sri Lanka crisis didn't start during Obama's administration; it's been going on for literally decades. This most recent episode has been brewing since the government ended a 5-year truce with the Tamil Tiger rebels in early 2008. Since then, the government has pushed the war into a final phase, vowing to finish the job this February in an independence day address. But the short point is: the U.S., and everyone else, has had a long time to see the current crisis coming. It was no surprise -- or should not have been.
The United Nations missed that chance, despite the strong statements coming from governments, on occasion. As Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group recently wrote for FP, the Security Council's "relative silence is a matter for growing shame with each passing day." Much of the hold up has come from lobbying to member states, by the government of Sri Lanka, he says. And that proves, "how much weight effective council action would have." In other words: the government was nervous for what could have been.
Finally, while the lack of IMF loan will hurt, we should be under no illusions that Sri Lanka cannot get money elsewhere. The country has recently turned away from its traditional creditors and looked to other sources of cash and military expertise - think China and Pakistan.
So how did Obama do? Yes, not bad. But the conundrum of Sri Lanka will take much more fixing.
PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
Der Spiegel reports that the U.S. president is passing up an official visit to Berlin when he heads to Europe in June for the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landing, in favor of a more personal stopover:
On Tuesday, the news became public that a White House advance team is currently in the eastern German city of Dresden, where they are looking for possible accommodations for the president. In addition to a short visit to the city on the Elbe River, the president is also intending to visit the memorial at the former Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald. Obama's great-uncle, Charlie Payne, served in the 89th Infantry Division during World War II and participated in the liberation of Ohrdruf, a forced labor camp that was a satellite camp of Buchenwald. ...
An official visit by Obama to Berlin seems highly unlikely during the German election campaign -- even though Chancellor Merkel for one would prefer the popular US president to make an official appearance at the Chancellery instead of touring around the states of Saxony and Thuringia.
Obama's already cut short a talk with Gordon Brown for a meeting with the Boy Scouts and bumped Lula for St. Patrick's Day. Now he's snubbing the chancellor of Germany for a couple days of tourism? (The German government also can't be thrilled that Obama's most memorable photo-op is likely to be at a concentration camp.)
So what's the deal? Does Obama just not like hanging out with other world leaders?
For a while last fall, I unsuccesfully tried to start an Internet meme by labelling other leader's attempts to associate themselves with Obama as "hopejacking." Since taking office, Obama seems to have been making a conscious effort to prevent this phenomenon by keeping eager leaders at arm's length. Consider this excerpt from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's piece today on the Obama administration's relationship with Hamid Karzai:
Ten days before Obama's inauguration, Karzai told Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. during a private meeting in Kabul that he looked forward to building with Obama the same sort of chummy relationship he had with Bush, which included frequent videoconferences and personal visits.
"Well, it's going to be different," Biden replied, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversation. "You'll probably talk to him or see him a couple of times a year. You're not going to be talking to him every week."
Obama advisers believe the relationship that Bush developed with Karzai masked the Afghan leader's flaws and made it difficult to demand accountability. Obama has not held a videoconference with Karzai, and the two have spoken by phone just twice. The administration rebuffed Karzai's request for a bilateral visit to Washington this spring, telling him he could come only as part of this week's tripartite summit with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, according to U.S. government officials. Karzai's meeting with Obama today is scheduled for 20 minutes, as is Zardari's.
For a president who came into office promising to stop neglecting America's allies, Obama doesn't seem particularly excited to talk to them. Critics have charged that Obama has seemed more chummy with Hugo Chávez and Dmitry Medvedev than with staunch U.S. allies like Brown, Sarkozy, and Karzai, but I think the more pertinent point is that Obama seems to be basically friendly to all other world leaders without developing a close relationship with any of them.
Some of this may just be personality. Obama has been branded as aloof and cerebral since he was campaigning on the south side of Chicago and the reputation (seemingly with some justification) has dogged him ever since.
But there's likely also a deliberate effort, as Chandrasekaran suggests, to move away from George W. Bush's more personal style of diplomacy. (Peter Feaver has more on this over at Shadow Government.) This style led Bush to stand by some dubious leaders (Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, Vladimir Putin) with whom he had a close personal relationship while being inordinately preoccupied by belligerent leaders (Chávez, Saddam Hussein) who ultimately didn't prove that much of a threat.
I understand Obama's desire to change, and Bush-style personal diplomacy certainly doesn't seem suited to his temperment, but I worry when the U.S. president seems to want to treat other world leaders like students coming in for office hours. Nobody's suggesting they play a round of hoops, but 20 minutes each just doesn't seem like enough face time to give the leaders of two countries that are vital to U.S. security, no matter what he might think of them.
During his campaign, Obama argued to voters that speaking with other leaders doesn't imply support or agreement. 100+ days in, it's not clear when all that talking is going to start. David Brooks wrote a somewhat corny but basically perceptive column last summer arguing that there are really two Obamas, the cerebral "Dr. Barack" and "Fast Eddie Obama," the wheeling and dealing Chicago pol. I'm glad to have Dr. Barack designing U.S. strategy, but I sometimes wish we could send Fast Eddie to the meetings.
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Today, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and President Barack Obama laid out a plan to create and enforce stricter tax regulations for U.S. corporations. Obama's opening salvo from the presser:
Most Americans meet their responsibilities because they understand that it's an obligation of citizenship...and yet, even as most American citizens and businesses meet these responsibilities, there are others who are shirking theirs.
He went on to describe the U.S. tax code as "full of corporate loopholes that [make] it perfectly legal for companies to avoid paying their fair share."
That's right. He was talking about "tax havens": not just countries in which major U.S. corporations hide from U.S. taxes, but a big fat open season sign for fire and brimstone metaphors and sword of Damocles swinging. Democratic speechwriters must adore tax havens. They're like the Newt Gingrich of tax policy: always there to beat up.
Rhetorical fury aside, tax havens really do allow U.S. companies to shore up a whole lot of money, money which Obama hopes to use to revamp the U.S.'s healthcare system, among other things. Interesting factoids from the Treasury release:
The closing of three major tax haven loopholes should garner $190 billion in tax revenue for the government in the next ten years.
Another big beneficiary of the changes? Lobbyists. Corporate America isn't going to like this -- and they're going to pay a lot of money to see the repeal of these changes.
Hamas, in the eyes of the United States government, is a terrorist organization. It is illegal for the Palestinian Islamist party to receive American aid because it fails to meet three criteria established by U.S. law: it refuses to acknowledge Israel, renounce violence, or abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In the event of the formation of a coalition government between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, this fact would prevent American aid from being delivered to the PA. To sidestep this problem, Secretary of State Clinton pressed Congress last week to amend a law, in order to keep money flowing to the PA should there be a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
The Obama administration’s plan would allow the PA to receive American aid as long as the Hamas members of the coalition government met America’s three criteria, even if Hamas as an organization did not. Clinton noted that the United States continues to provide aid to the Lebanese government, despite the fact that Hezbollah is a member. She argued that cutting all of America’s financial strings to the PA would deprive it of the ability to affect a gradual change in Hamas’s behavior.
In addition to an ethical dilemma, this scheme also presents a bevy of political ones. Opinions of Democratic and Republican members of Congress have ranged from skeptical to hostile, with one Republican Congressmen describing it as similar to supporting a government “that only has a few Nazis in it.” An anonymous Israeli political source stated that the proposal was “painful and worrying.”
Obama deserves credit for bravery in putting forth a plan which will inevitably be portrayed as benefiting Hamas, an organization easily and deservedly vilified. However, the widening rift between the rival Palestinian factions makes the question of a unity government purely hypothetical, and suggests that Obama’s plan will have a greater impact in Washington and Jerusalem than it ever will in Ramallah.
It's finally -- finally!! -- here, with much press fanfare: the 100th day of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
With 100 days, comes 100 day report cards. I attempted to make a list of 100 100 day report cards, and, alas failed. Nevertheless, here are some recommendations. Of course, we at FP put together a report card with commentary from our favorite foreign-policy experts.
The National Security Network put up a clever 100-days post listing U.S. President Barack Obama's first 100 foreign policy achievements. It's a bit of fun to read and highlights some less-noted but very important achivements, like appointing an envoy to Sudan and "imploring soccer’s governing body to grant the U.S. the right to host the Cup again in 2018 or 2022."
As a bonus, we also have two great additions to our report card.
Influential political economist and monetary policy expert Allan Meltzer gives the Obama administration a C-:
The administration has made a major effort to repair the international image that they inherited. Affect is important and possibly helpful. But it is a mistake to think that affect is what makes agreement possible. As scholars and statesmen have always known, countries have interests, and their interests dominate their decisions.
During the Cold War, the Europeans accepted American "arrogance" as the price of defense against the Soviets. When the Cold War ended, their response to U.S. initiatives and policies changed. They were unable to act against genocide and war in the Balkans. They needed the United States again.
But they are classic free riders. We protect mutual interests in Afghanistan, but most do very little. We protect their oil supplies. They do very little. Affect may get them to smile more, but it won't get them to give up free riding.
Contrast the response in Asia. India, rarely friendly, developed much closer relations with the U.S. during the Bush years. And Japan has remained a reliable ally. The difference is they see value in having a counter-force to China. They may not believe that China is a threat, but it is a rising power in their neighborhood. They find value in having a strong ally.
I would find the Obama-Clinton policy more convincing, if they explained why they think that the Asians and the Europeans responded to the United States so differently in recent years.
Rory Stewart gives Obama a B:
I am not convinced by the troop increases in Afghanistan. Pakistan is 10 times more important than Afghanistan (it is where al Qaeda is based, it is a nuclear power, it has the potential to destabilize India). A lighter presence in Afghanistan would more accurately reflect its comparative importance for the United States and would be more acceptable in the next five years to U.S., European, and Afghan citizens.
The current increases may soon force calls for total withdrawal, which would be disastrous for us and the Afghans. We should plan for a long, patient relationship with Afghanistan and a lighter more modest footprint is a more sustainable footprint.
So: What do you think?
Photo: Flickr user Barack Obama
For the past few days, FP's been calling and emailing some of our favorite foreign policy thinkers to get their grades on U.S. President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office. We have all the responses here, but here's a cheat-sheet of the marks:
Walter Russell Mead
Jose Manuel Calvo
Fawaz A. Gerges
Ted Galen Carpenter
Incomplete or None Given
David J. Kramer
We're getting more trickling in, and we'll be posting them on the blog, along with some of our favorite insightful foreign policy critiques.
What grade would you give Obama so far?
It seems that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry let loose a little bit in an interview with USA Today.
Kerry, who's just returned from Pakistan, said that the Obama administration's plan for the troubled country "is not a real strategy." Saying that Pakistan is "in a moment of peril," he said, "I believe there is not in place yet an adequate policy or plan to deal with it."
Kerry also took issue with the term "Af-Pak," arguing that the governments in question "don't see the linkage."
As USA Today's Ken Delanian notes, "Kerry's comments amounted to one of the most serious criticisms leveled by a Democrat at Obama on foreign policy."
Still, I'm not sure the senator's criticism really hits the mark. For starters, just because Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari don't like a term doesn't mean the situations aren't linked. (My colleague Chris Brose is right, however, that the U.S. government shouldn't be using this shorthand -- it's condescending.)
Second, I disagree with Kerry's assertion that the drone strikes have been such a smashing success. As numerous Pakistani experts emphatically told FP last year, the strikes risk winning the battle against a decreasingly relevant al Qaeda while losing the much broader war against the Taliban and assorted militant groups.
It ought to tell us something that the Pakistani government feels it has to lie to its people about its role in these strikes. It ought to tell us something that even as the CIA keeps plinking bad guys, their ranks keep growing.
UPDATE: According to Frederick Jones, Kerry's spokesman, "Kerry’s comments were very much misconstrued" by USA Today. He didn't dispute the quotes, but stressed that "it's part of an ongoing process and that the details need to be fleshed out." Jones also said that Kerry is very much in favor of linking policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan; he just finds the term "Af-Pak" to be culturally insensitive.
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
It's been a tense day for constitutional lawyers, national security reporters, and foreign policy wonks. Why? This afternoon, the Obama administration intends to release memos relating to the controversial "enhanced interrogation" policies of CIA officers in overseas prisons.
There have been careful negotiations between the CIA, Justice Department, and White House over the contents of the release, and it seems the officers involved have been granted immunity from prosecution as a result.
The full set of documents should be released here sometime within the hour.
Update: The only redactions are the officers' names.
Update: Read the memos here.
Writing in the Washington Times, Audrey Hudson and Eli Lake report that the Department of Homeland Security has produced and disseminated a nine-page report on the threat of "rightwing extremist activity," spurred by the global economic crisis, election of a black president, and the return of "disgruntled war veterans."
The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff's departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
It says the federal government "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months" to gather information on "rightwing extremist activity in the United States"....
"Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action," the report says. "In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded."
In producing the report, the United States joins numerous European countries facing possible right-wing nationalist activity. But Europe's long-struggled with nationalism stoked by immigration from ethnic minorities; it has right-wing anti-immigration political parties, mainstreaming sentiment which might otherwise be considered or become extremist.
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
"Scholars on the Sidelines," by Joseph S. Nye Jr. in the Washington Post. Referencing FP's "Inside the Ivory Tower," Nye argues that American academics are "paying less attention to questions about how their work relates to the policy world" and that more scholarship should have "real-world relevance."
David Gardner asks a provocative question in this weekend's Financial Times: Is the West's fear of political Islam condemning the Middle East to a generation of poor leadership? Political Islam is the new communism, he argues; the United States fears it so much that it prefers despots to even the most moderate Islamists. The Middle East, by implication, might be going through the same bout of poor leadership that afflicted Latin America and Africa as the Cold War contest played out in their regions.
"War By Any Other Name." Joe Queenan takes a look at the ripples of the Obama administration's "semi-official" move to revamp the vocabulary for "the war on terror" and the attempt to distance itself from the Bush administration's "fierce" rhetoric. Money quote: "From now on, the bad guys will be referred to as 'the ostensibly malefic.' We'll get back to you when we have a new term for 'the good guys.'"
(Bonus pick: Presidential Pets. Couldn't resist...)
Walter Benn Michaels's essay "Going Boom," in the February/March issue of Bookforum. According to Michaels, boom time for markets is bust time for literature, which turns back to unhappy but irrelevant periods of the past when there's not enough drama in the present day (the 1990s-2000s spike in popular fiction about the Holocaust), or focuses boringly inward (the memoir, anything Oprah's Book Club recommends). But, during an economic collapse, Western novelists will have enough material to deal relevantly with the present, and financial crisis fiction will blossom. (Hat tip: Paper Cuts)
U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag blogs that crime has fallen in New York City during the recession. Indeed, Orszag says economic bad-times tend to spur property crimes, but not violent crimes. "One reason may be that alcohol use tends to decline during recessions (another potentially surprising finding), and that the reduction in alcohol use reduces violent crime," he notes. (Hat tip: Tapped)
Nouriel Roubini puts a brake on all the sanguine predictions for China’s 2009 recovery prospects in a report titled "Outlook for China's Economy in 2009 and Beyond." In the analysis, Dr. Doom tells investors not to get ahead of themselves, as the Chinese economy has not seen a true rebalancing toward domestic consumption, but he also notes one major positive: The country's trade surplus might finally be shrinking.
Today's big story on the high seas are the Somalian buccaneers, but the future of naval warfare may be developing in another part of the Indian Ocean. While India is taking measures to protect its vulnerable coast from terrorist attacks, China is preparing to make a major announcement at the 60th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) on April 23rd. Writing in Time Magazine, Howard Chua-Eoan describes the brewing naval rivalry developing between Asia's two aspiring superpowers.
The New York Times' Julia Preston, who reports today on Barack Obama's plan to start pushing for immigration reform as early as May, seems to doubt the political wisdom of the U.S. president's move.
As she notes, it could get extremely ugly, with immigration opponents likely to "mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs."
And indeed they will. Lou Dobbs is going to have a field day, and the Republican base is going to lose its collective head. It doesn't seem even remotely plausible that Obama will get a bill passed in this economic climate.
That said, perhaps the president has another aim in mind. Maybe he doesn't expect to pass legislation this time around. Maybe he's thinking ahead to the 2010 midterm elections, and looking to give the Republicans just enough rope to hang themselves on this issue. If he moves forward, the GOP's worst elements will come to the fore, branding the party for years to come as narrow-minded and regressive. Without George W. Bush as the voice of tolerance and reason on immigration, the party's base will swiftly alienate Latino voters once and for all, and meanwhile frighten white suburban voters who are repulsed by racial appeals.
At least, that's the only explanation that makes sense.
Indispensible financial blogger Felix Salmon, Liam Halligan for The Telegraph, and the New York Times have been parsing the fine print of the G-20 Communique, which promised $1 trillion in additional funding to help ease the financial crisis and get countries growing again.
They note that countries, including the United States, are behind on their IMF funding -- the crux of the program -- and require various sorts of congressional approval; therefore, the funding push may be illusory. The NYT concludes: "Some of the money has yet to be pledged, some is double-counted and some would be counted in a 'synthetic currency' that is not actually real money."
In some sense, none of this should come as a surprise; the "$1 trillion" number hardly represented the sum of an ordered and pledged budget. The Communique included massive sums with little fine print. Member-states' contributions to international organizations always become backed-up. And the ink isn't dry on the page yet -- there's been little time to sort out which commitments will come to fruition first.
The New York Times notices a specific potential problem:
In perhaps the most novel move, the Group of 20 authorized the monetary fund to issue $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights, known as S.D.R.’s — a “virtual currency” whose value is set by a basket of real currencies like the dollar, euro and British pound. The I.M.F. will issue the S.D.R.’s to all 185 of its members, and they in turn can lend them out to poor countries.
Special Drawing Rights are not cash but a form of credit, against which a country can borrow. The Obama administration, which conceived the idea and sold it to the Group of 20, figures it would create between $15 billion and $20 billion in additional credit for the poorest countries.But there is a caveat here as well. For the program’s benefits to be felt globally, the United States and Europe will need to lend out their Special Drawing Rights. In the United States, that will require Congressional approval.
To say that the SDRs aren't a real currency is both true and false. They are a unit of exchange eventually backed with actual cash; the IMF collects money from the member-states to fund them.
And countries like Russia and China, as well as IMF representatives themselves, have called for massive revisions to the outmoded program, to make it useful for alleviating the recession. How that will work remains to be seen.
Plus, it seems early days to be sounding the death knell for the G-20 spending promises. Will the $1 trillion number prove correct? No. But that isn't to say the IMF won't massively expand to aid ailing countries -- ultimately the point of the summit.
Daniel Freifeld of NYU's Center for Law and Security attended Barack Obama's speech in Prague yesterday and was kind enough to write up an account of the event for us:
Here at President Obama's first public speech abroad since being elected President, I found two actors from the hit HBO show "The Wire" standing in the VIP section. Tristan Wilds, who played the heart rending part of Michael Lee, and Andre Royo who played recovering drug addict Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins (seen here with his daughter). They, along with a handful of other actors on location in Prague to film the forthcoming movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, "Red Tails," took some time off to catch the speech (Lee explained that although the film is set in Italy, director George Lucas chose Prague because it more closely resembles the Italy of World War II than Italy itself does today).
Warm-up music for Obama included a live performance by Druhá Tráva, a Czech bluegrass band, and recorded music by U2, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Kanye West (whose music I doubt would have ever been used to warm up a George W. Bush crowd).
Hanging out off to the side was Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough and senior adviser David Axelrod:
Another interesting note: disparate cheers were heard in the crowd when Obama said "The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against [potential Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile activity]," a statement he immediately hedged by setting Iranian "persistence" as a condition precedent for following through with the proposed radar installations. Recent opinion polls suggest the Czechs are becoming increasingly worried that the installation would unnecessarily antagonize Russia and make Europe less secure, not more. Judging by that tepid response following Obama's statement, the crowd seemed to be a fair reflection of where Czech opinion is heading on this issue.
Daniel Freifeld is the Director of International Programs at the NYU Center on Law and Security
This morning, Politico reports on a Rasmussen poll taken two days before North Korea's botched rocket launch. The release leads with the alarming line: "Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability."
The poll shows that both genders support military intervention equally, and that two-thirds of Republicans and just over half of Democrats do. Only 15 percent oppose it.
Still, it's not convincing evidence that most Americans are clamoring to send in the troops. The question read:
If North Korea launches a long-range missile, should the United States take military action to eliminate North Korea's ability to launch missiles?
Thus far, North Korea hasn't shown a lot of success with long-range missiles. The question also came immediately after one about concern over North Korea's nuclear capacity.
The most interesting finding of the poll, perhaps, shows a 14-point drop in people considering North Korea an enemy, and a massive skew along political lines over whether the Stalinist collectivist state is an enemy, ally, or something in between:
Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans consider North Korea an enemy of the United States. That view is shared by 50% of unaffiliateds and 28% of Democrats. Most Democrats (57%) place North Korea somewhere between ally and enemy.
Photo: Flickr user Borut Peterlin
Gideon Rachman says that the most important stop on Obama's European tour is not the well-scripted meeting in London, but Turkey:
This is the one bit of the trip that it is very hard to script in advance - and the stakes are very high. Will Obama use his speech to the Turkish parliament to make the long-promised big statement on the relationship between the West and the Islamic world? Can he do anything to repair the damage in the US-Turkish relationship and turn around the desperate and dangerous unpopularity of the US there? What role might Turkey play over Iran or the Middle East peace process? How will the president address the issue of Armenia?
Congress is pushing for a resolution accusing Turkey of having committed genocide against the Armenians. Candidate Obama sounded sympathetic to the Armenian lobby. But President Obama will be desperate not to inflict any further damage on US-Turkish relations.
It is all very tricky and intriuging stuff.
The New York Times reports, following the Mexican media, that Hillary Clinton's visit to Mexico is in danger of being upstaged by concerns over Obama's reported pick for ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual. Pascual, who is director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and former ambassador to Ukraine, has written extensively about failed states and ran the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization under the Bush administration:
That could raise hackles among some Mexicans, who take umbrage at recent assertions by American analysts that drug-related violence has so destabilized Mexico that it is danger of becoming a failed state.
Pascual's views on state failure are state laid out in this 2005 Foreign Affairs piece (subscribers only) co-written with Stephen Krasner:
In today's increasingly interconnected world, weak and failed states pose an acute risk to U.S. and global security. Indeed, they present one of the most important foreign policy challenges of the contemporary era. States are most vulnerable to collapse in the time immediately before, during, and after conflict. When chaos prevails, terrorism, narcotics trade, weapons proliferation, and other forms of organized crime can flourish. Left in dire straits, subject to depredation, and denied access to basic services, people become susceptible to the exhortations of demagogues and hatemongers.
Most of Pascual's work concerns post-conflict scenarios like Iraq and Afghanistan and doesn't quite apply to Mexico's current situation. I haven't been able to find anything he's written specifically on Mexico and he didn't mention drugs or Mexico as major concerns in his Brookings "memo to the President.
It'll be interesting to see if he shares the view, put forth by Niall Ferguson and Sam Quinones in the most recent issue of FP, that the Mexican state is in danger of being overwhelmed by a "criminal-capitalist insurgency." His appointment does seem to indicate that the Obama adminsitration is taking that possibility seriously.
Photo: Brookings Institution
Over at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder offers a peek into President Barack Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy -- to be unveiled tomorrow. Among the highlights:
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