The new U.S. ambassador to Britain, Louis Susman, has indicated he will not pay the 3.5 million pounds ($5.7 million!) in congestion charges the embassy owes the City of London.
Drivers pay 8 pounds a day for the privilege of driving in a central zone at peak hours -- but the U.S. embassy has refused to pay. The argument? The congestion charge is a tax, not a service fee. And embassies don't pay taxes.
The mayor's office and Transport for London, which administers the program, argue that around three-quarters of embassies pay the charge -- a service, not a tax -- and that the United States should do better than to rely on semantics to wiggle out of it.
I tend to think of congestion charges as taxes. They're designed to encourage certain behaviors and to make money for local governments. London spends the program's surplus (around a third of revenue, or nearly 90 million pounds, in 2007) on transport investment, for instance. But this still seems a little unseemly. What do you think?
Two weeks ago, Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president and husband of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited North Korea. He met with dictator Kim Jong-il and secured the release of two American journalists who had been held there for months.
This past weekend, Sen. Jim Webb traveled to Myanmar on a trip through Southeast Asia. Webb -- who likely knows more about the region than anyone else on the Hill -- has long criticized U.S. sanctions on Myanmar. He met with the head of the country's military junta and leading dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. And he secured the release of an American who had been jailed for breaking into Suu Kyi's compound, where she is on house arrest.
The Obama administration and U.S. news outlets have described these two missions as "private diplomacy." Webb and Clinton are both foreign-policy heavyweights outside the administration. Their stature and connections provided them with the latitude to make entreaties to these rogue, adversarial governments. They offered nothing in terms of aid or support or promises of policy-change -- they did not represent the Washington, of course. But they offered good press and a thread back to the capital -- which proved enough for the strongmen, Kim and Shwe.
Clearly, though, the word "private" is not totally accurate here. Both did it with the administration's nod and help.
The Washington Post wrote of Clinton's visit: "The trip came about only after weeks of back-channel conversations involving academics, congressional figures, and senior White House and State Department officials, said sources involved in the planning. North Korea rejected the administration's first choice for the trip -- former vice president Al Gore." The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House approved Webb's mission -- and he used a military plane for the trips.
All of which leaves me a bit queasy, though ultimately hopeful, about this rash of private diplomatic missions.
Part of me thinks the White House shouldn't be in the lame business of disavowing trips it clearly had a hand in making. Further, I worry the United States gave up an opportunity to publicly demand something out of Yangon. Clinton herself has said the United States would consider trading an easing of sanctions for the release of Suu Kyi. Webb may have made some headway towards that goal. But to hear Clinton or Obama comment on it would have doubtless brought a sense of urgency to the issue and shined a brighter spotlight on what the junta needs to change.
On the other hand, both the United States and the rogue governments got what they wanted. The U.S. gave up virtually nothing, got its citizens back, and won some good press for its diplomatic successes. Myanmar and North Korea got, for a moment, to look magnanimous and reasonable -- tempered by the stories about their human-rights abuses, and the fact that Washington did not send interlocutors with actual foreign policy power (Clinton herself, or a committee chair, say) to confer with them.
I suppose these carefully charted and subtle missions proved to work fine. To consider them isolated incidences or unqualified successes (or failures) would be the worst misjudgment -- foreign policy is always about carrots and sticks, and back and forth. This White House gets that really well.
As FP's coverage of Honduras shows, D.C. lobbyists are open to nearly anyone if the price is right. But for those with less cash, Independent Diplomat (ID), a non-profit organization, lobbies with a mission. With a team of experienced former diplomats, its stated purpose is lobbying on behalf of those without diplomatic representation with a goal of reducing conflict.
"Very often government or international officials will refuse to talk to our clients, or if they talk to them they're reluctant to givethem the information they need," said Nicholas Whyte, who heads the Brussels office of the nonprofit group.
"And from our clients' side, they are often inexperienced in dealing with international bureaucracies precisely because nobody talks to them,"said Whyte, an Irish international affairs expert.
According to the AP, Independent Diplomat's annual budget is $1.8 million, funded partly by foundations and partly by client fees--which depend on ability to pay.
Because the United States makes it fairly easy to look up lobbying records, especially for foreign entities, I checked out exactly how much ID is making from its U.S. operations.
According to lobbying disclosure forms, ID's most recent client, registered July 20, is the Government of the Southern Sudan. The contract between the two agrees that the fee to ID will be $294,000 for a maximum of 100 days work. This amount would be high for one contract, even for the standards of, say, Saudi Arabia ($150,000/quarter), but this is where the sliding scale applies. The contract states:
The Parties agree that the Client is not in a position itself to fully fund the Fee and the Expenses payable pursuant to this Agreement but as a contribution to that Fee and the Expenses will pay ID USD $10,000 at a time... to be determine by the parties. As to the remaining amount...the Client agrees that ID and the Client will seek project funding from external sources.
Any donors out there want to pick up this tab? It's a drop in the bucket compared to the $530,000 the official Sudanese government shelled out in 2005.
As for ID's other clients, it appear that Northern Cyprus is paying its full bill of £104,000 ($176,945) and the Burmese exiles have already payed half of their $100,000 year-long fee. Somaliland and Western Sahara, however, are paying only ID's expenses--and it promises to only travel economy class.
In 2008, Al-Jazeera English did a short documentary on Independent Diplomat, and its founder, Carne Ross, who quit the British foreign service over differences on Iraq. Viewable below.
H/T: David Axe
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will today become the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the White House since Barack Obama was elected last year. On the agenda for the two presidents is the global financial crisis, climate change and terrorism -- a high priority for the Philippines that has consistently sought U.S. help in combating Muslim separatists on the southern island of Mindanao.
But back in Manila, the Philippine Daily Inquirer says Obama plans to "lecture Arroyo on democracy" during her visit. Since coming to power in 2001, the Philippine president has fielded numerous allegations of -- among others -- corruption, extrajudicial killings, torture, bribery and fraud. Arroyo's attempts to push through a charter change, instituting a unicameral parliamentary form of government and effectively allowing her to extend her term in office past June 2010, has sparked a great deal of opposition.
Social Weather Stations survey revealed
that 70 percent of Filipinos are opposed to amending the Constitution. Her current approval rating stands at
-31 percent, making even former U.S. President George W. Bush look
An estimated 10,000 protestors took to the streets on Monday in yet another anti-Arroyo demonstration. The Philipines has a history of "people power" movements and has twice ousted sitting presidents using popular mobilization. Arroyo (and Obama) would be wise to take heed.
Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty images
Some go around in Mercedes, some in Ladas, but the system forces almost everyone to hitch rides.
In 2006 Castro retaliated by erecting hundreds of 100-foot-high flag poles in the "Anti-Imperialist Plaza" opposite the Interests Section, meant to symbolize the Cuban people's struggle -- and conveniently obstructing view of the ticker.
For a few weeks now the messages have stopped flashing high above the streets of Havana, and although U.S. diplomats initially cited "technical difficulties" as the cause, they say they have no plans to turn it back on. It is a small, but symbolic, gesture as the Obama administration continues to ease hard-line policies against Cuba, and promises a normalization of relations between the two countries in the seemingly not-so-distant future.
At the opening session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue yesterday, President Obama made a point of referring to one of China's most impressive exports:
In addition to assembling the ballerest cabinet in American history, Obama also seems to really like dropping the names of a country's prominent U.S.-based athletes as an icebraker with possibly suspicious crowds. Here he is in Ankara on April 6:
“President Hu [Jintao] and I both felt that it was important to get our relationship off to a good start,” Obama said. “Of course, as a new president and also as a basketball fan, I have learned from the words of Yao Ming, who said, ‘No matter whether you are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another.’”
Maybe it's just a rhetorical pleasantry, but what if this indicates a new foreign policy doctrine for the Obama era, namely: No matter a country's regime type, economic system, or foreign policy goals, as long as they are represented (well) in U.S. professional sports leagues, there is at least the basis of a productive bilateral relationship with the United States.
This augurs well for a rapproachement with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, which has made substantial contributions to Major League Baseball -- including the manager of Obama's White Sox. Cuba could be a bit problematic, since Cuban baseball players tend to be defectors, but the country's potential baseball contribution is vast, so diplomatic progress will likely be slow but deliberate.
The U.S.-China relationship will remain at least as strong as Yao's knee, but Taiwan can at least count on Chien-Ming Wang in their bid for U.S. support.
Zaza Pachulia's new contract with the Atlanta Hawks should reassure Georgians worried about being abandoned in the Obama administration's Russian reset. Israelis worried about Obama's hard line on settlements should take heart in the recent signing of Omri Casspi by the Sacramento Kings. They may want to keep an eye on the Iranian Hamed Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies though, not to mention the NFL's half-Iranian T.J. Houshmanzadeh.
Kim Jong Il as well as his son and probably successor Kim Jong Un are both known to be big basketball fans. If they really want to get the U.S. to the negotiating table, perhaps what they need is not their own nuke, but their own Yao Ming.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
As promised, Barack Obama recorded a video response to several questions from Africans submitted by text message about his administration's policy towards Africa.
That only three were answered is probably a let down to the more than 5,000 people who submitted questions. However, the White House tried to reiterate its interest in African concerns by allowing three African journalists from Senegal, Kenya and South Africa to each select a question. The video is below and to summarize the three questions were:
These aren't exactly the hardest questions ever, and Obama had time to prepare, but the video, which was released to African radio and tv stations, shows a president who in his own words, is "probably as knowledgeable about African history as anybody who's occupied my office."
This is a good thing. Now let's see how the policy measures up.
My fellow FP blogger David Rothkopf already noted the weirdly sexist overtones in Tina Brown's Daily Beast piece referring to Hillary Clinton as Barack Obama's "foreign policy wife." But there are some other bizarre aspects of her argument.
First, Brown opens by urging Obama to "let Hillary Clinton take off her burqa" and ends by wondering how long how long Clinton will "be content with an office wifehood of the Saudi variety." I understand the metaphor but it still makes me queasy. I have a hard time believing a media observer as shrewd as Brown is jokingly portraying Obama as a polygamous Muslim without any awareness of the overtones that might have.
Second, this contrast struck me as odd:
Consider the president’s Moscow trip a week ago. In a cozy scene at Vladimir Putin’s dacha, the boys enjoyed traditional Russian tea and breakfast on a terrace. Sitting on Putin’s right was the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Where was Lavrov’s counterpart? She was back home, left there with a broken elbow to receive a visit from the ousted Honduran president, José Manuel Zelaya.
Are Central American coups just too déclassé for Hillary Clinton? If Clinton is really the publicity-shy policy wonk portrayed in Brown's article, I would think she would relish the chance to dive into a regional crisis where U.S. intervention could make a significant difference. Though, I guess it's not real diplomacy unless you get to have tea and scones at Putin's dacha.
(Brown seems to generally hold the Western Hemisphere in contempt, quipping that Bill Clinton has been made into "Port-au-Prince Philip" in his new role as UN envoy to Haiti.)
I'm clearly not as well connected as Brown and don't really feel qualified to comment on the Clinton-Obama psychodrama, but I'm fairly confident that pieces like this don't do much to advance her cause. The secretary seems to be handling that just fine on her own.
You would not speak to an idiot of that nature. I was very angry with him, and he thinks he could dictate to us what to do and what not to do. We have the whole of [the South African Development Community] working with us, and you have the likes of little fellows like Carson, you see, wanting to say: 'You do this, you do that.' Who is he? I hope he was not speaking for Obama.
A little American girl trotting around the globe like a prostitute.
The AP's Nicole Winfield writes that Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's flurry of diplomatic activity during the run-up to next week's G8 summit may be partially aimed at distracting from his ever-multiplying personal scandals (the latest accusation comes from a high-end prostitute who says she has Berlusconi on tape):
Berlusconi showed up at the last minute Saturday at a meeting in Corfu, Greece, of foreign ministers of the NATO-Russia Council — the only head of government there other than the host, Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis.
The foray was a well-timed distraction as Berlusconi battles allegations he partied with prostitutes at his homes. It also won him praise from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and gave him a prominent forum to show off his statesmanship before the July 8-10 G-8 summit in the quake-stricken central Italian city of L'Aquila.
Lavrov said it was "very important" that Berlusconi had taken personal responsibility for helping NATO and Russia resume military ties — formalized at a 2002 summit Berlusconi chaired — which were frozen after Russia's war with Georgia.
The visit, just two weeks after Berlusconi enjoyed a two-hour White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, also earned Berlusconi a half-hour phone call with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during which the Russian leader expressed a desire to resume full collaboration with NATO, Berlusconi said.
You have to wonder if Berlusconi's been getting advice from Nicolas Sarkozy. It wasn't long ago that the French prime minister's very public courtship of Carla Bruni was considered a distraction, his private text messages to his wife were on the front pages of the tabloids, he was ensnared in a tawdry family scandal over a mayor's race, and his popularity hit rock bottom, seemingly dragging his party along with him.
But instead of focusing on improving his domestic standing, Sarkozy looked abroad. He embarked on a whirlwind round of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, Caucasus, and Africa, making the most of his term as EU president. He's also emerged as Europe's leading campaigner for international financial regulation, an ironic twist for the leader who was once attacked by French leftists for his "anglo-saxon" economic philosophy.
And while the Bruni jokes haven't gone away, he's certainly more respeted on the world stage than he was a year ago, his approval ratings (while still low) have improved significantly, and his party earned a commanding victory in the recent European parliament elections.
So all this international travel may ultimately pay off for Berlusconi. Though it should be noted that his approval ratings have barely fallen at all during the current round of scandals. Having his own media empire certainly helps. No such luck for Sarko.
Dennis Ross is the Lebron James of Middle East diplomacy."
—David Makovsky, coauthor with Ross of Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East
(An apt analogy, if only because Lebron has yet to win the NBA title -- just as Ross hasn't achieved any breakthroughs on Middle East peace. Also, Ross was a baller back in the day.)
Let's stop treating North Korea like a naughty child.
Edward Luttwak thinks negotiations have "utterly failed," ultimately giving North Korea more of what it wants without reciprocal concessions from Pyongyang. Fair point. But the solution? "Silence might yet persuade the North Koreans to improve their behavior."
Translation: Since Kim Jong Il isn't cooperating, let's put him in time-out for a while and see if he doesn't change his tune.
The Time-out Doctrine also finds a sponsor in Stephen Walt:
The louder we protest, the more domestic benefits the regime gets ... We've got lots of more important countries to deal with and we just don't have much to say to them anymore. Once they are ready to release [U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling], they know how to reach us."
Beyond the fact that intentionally creating a test of wills is only likely to strengthen Kim's resolve, the Time-out Doctrine is an entirely puerile form of punishment. Supporters of the idea might say that's the point, but something tells me diplomats should be more mature than this.
International talks have indeed proven fruitless thus far. But this much is clear: North Korea is not unwilling to play the West's game. Just by showing up to the negotiating table, it is signaling its acceptance of the rules. And as long as Pyongyang sees something to be gained in talking, it will stay.
We share President Obama's hope that the American effort heralds the opening of a new era that will bring an end to the conflict and to general Arab recognition of Israel as the nation of the Jewish people that lives in security and peace in the Middle East.
Israel is committed to peace and will do all it can to expand the circle of peace while considering its national interests, first and foremost being security.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran:
You witness that in Afghanistan, American warplanes bomb people and kill some 150 not once, but 10 and 100 times. They kill people continually. So, terrorist groups, do what you are doing there.
If the new president of America wants a change of face, America should change this behaviour. Words and talk will not result in change.
The use of Koranic sayings plays a big part in a positive change of picture, but there is a necessity for action.
The Islamic world does not need moral or political sermons. It needs a fundamental change in American policy beginning from a halt to complete support for Israeli aggression on the region, especially on Lebanese and Palestinians, to an American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and a stop to its interference in the affairs of Islamic countries.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood:
There's an unjust perspective on the part of the American president toward the Palestinian issue, one that does not differ from former President Bush's and the neoconservatives' perspective.
Speaking about a policy of pursuing a war against extremism and working towards two states for peoples on Palestinian lands is no different from the policy of his predecessor, George W Bush.
Not only did the speech specifically reject western (and American) colonialism, its entire tone was the antithesis of colonial. This is a profoundly different American voice, one that will do much to advance American goals rather than to sabotage them.
Arab leaders who were listening to this speech might want to consider a similar speech of their own to their people.
Shimon Peres, president of Israel:
President Obama's journey to Saudi Arabia and Egypt could be an opportunity. It reflects both the need for an historic change in the Middle East and a unique chance of achieving it.
The Middle East requires realpolitiks. It's indeed intriguing that Obama came to Egypt for this speech. The location and timing underline the moral choices made. And on the Middle East no less, where the means so often define the effort because the ends constantly prove elusive.
This seems connected to me to the remarkable way in which this speech is being pushed out in multiple media—on television, but also on Twitter and on Facebook and via SMS and all in multiple languages—to a global audience. Part of the rise of Obama is the rise of a post-television, post-sound bite technological paradigm ... It creates a whole new world from one in which the point of a speech is just to field test a couple of zingers in hopes that one or two of them gets picked up for the evening news.
Perhaps the most curious passage was this one: "Given our interdependence, any world order which elevates any nation or group of people above any other will inevitably fail." This is nonsense, of course, as Obama seems to recognize several sentences later when he says that America will 'relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.
Mr Obama has addressed Muslims before. ... But this speech fulfilled his pre-inauguration promise to make a bold bid to restore American prestige with a direct public address in a Muslim capital. ...
Yet the constant refrain, heard on Cairo’s streets as well as from media pundits, is that Arabs and Muslims would like to see Mr Obama’s words matched by deeds. 'To win our hearts, you must win our minds first, and our minds are set on the protection of our interests,' declared one of the reams of editorials, columns and open letters from across the region before Mr Obama spoke.
If they want respect, Muslim states must seek active ways to improve relations with the United States. We would like to see a generally more positive and welcoming tone, with fewer anti-American harangues in official media and firebrand sermons in state-controlled mosques. ... Respect for Islam would be much more palatable if the Muslim world decriminalized conversion to other faiths and allowed true religious freedom, as Muslims enjoy in America.
The truest thing he said? "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust."
President Obama's speech today in Cairo met the bar he set for himself.
Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine:
The ball is now in the Arab court – he needs and deserves their help, and they have a vital interest in providing it. Arab governments, organizations and individuals should, in their own interests, move quickly to do everything possible to reciprocate and support the President’s bold gestures.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama met his first African leader in the White House earlier this week -- Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. The two talked the talk on everything from "health, education, and agriculture, and working with other partners in the region to solve some of the most pressing conflicts on the African continent," according to the White House press release.
Between the Tanzanian visit and the Ghana trip scheduled for this July, I can't help noticing that Obama is going in for the softballs. Both countries are democratic, pretty darn stable, and relatively rich for their respectives regions in East and West Africa. Maybe he's warming up?
I'd like to think there's more strategic thinking at work here. As I wrote last month, Ghana is at a pivotal moment -- just having discovered oil and freshly out of a democratic presidential election. There's something to be said for building up alliances with regional power players before tackling their more troublesome neighbors.
With Tanzania, I would suspect two neighbors were on the leaders' minds: Kenya and Somalia. Following election violence and the forming a subsequent coalition government last year, today Kenya is having a rocky go of things. The government claims not to be flailing with internal conflicts, though reports are widely to the opposite effect. And cleaning up the election hooplah looks equally troubled -- with election reform slow to be seen. Kikwete was elemental in organizing the first power-sharing deal. And together with the U.S., he could put the pressure on, if by no other means than this visit's message: democracy gets you a meeting at the White House.
And then there's Somalia -- little more need be said. It would be good news if this president chooses Tanzania over Ethiopia as its stallworth ally in that struggle. Because we all saw how well Ethiopia's tries in Somalia went last time.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images
Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times reports that Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is planning is flying to Tehran today to meet with his Iranian counterpart, and possibly President Ahmadinejad. This is a break from the official EU policy of avoiding high-level nation-to-nation contact with the Iranians:
Mr Frattini will be the most senior official from a European government to visit Iran in the four years since Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad was elected president.
Western diplomats expressed dismay that Mr Frattini intended to break EU ranks. They also said that Washington had not given Rome a “green light”. Allies have warned Mr Frattini that he risks handing a propaganda victory to Iran’s hardline president less than a month before he stands for re-election.
EU governments had agreed to shun Iran because of its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment programme in line with United Nations resolutions. The decision to keep contacts limited to Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief who last visited Tehran a year ago, was reinforced by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s rhetorical attacks on Israel.
Dinmore also notes that Italy has long resented being left out of the "EU3" group of Britain, France, and Germany that has dominated decision-making on Iranian issues.
Frattini's diplomatic freelancing raises some questions about the EU's ability ability to present a unified foreign-policy front. Recently-departed EU President Mirek Topolanek said earlier this month that the one regret of his tumultuous term was not keeping Nicolas Sarkozy on a shorter leash. The French president's shuttle diplomacy in the Caucasus and the Middle East "gave the impression that the French were dominating the show.” Given this impression, it's not exactly surprising that countries like Italy would look to pull off some diplomatic coups of their own.
I breathed a great sigh of relief with the Iranian government's announcement of the release of journalist Roxana Saberi, who Tehran convicted of spying for the United States.
Saberi was initially arrested in January for buying a bottle of wine. When in custody, officials realized she had no press credentials (which had been revoked in 2006). Her trial lasted only an hour, and she was sent to the infamous Evin prison with an eight-year sentence.
And, joining Spencer Ackerman here, I hope that Saberi's release will draw attention to the plight of two other imprisoned journalists: Euna Lee and Laura Ling of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's Current TV.
North Korea has held the pair incommunicado since the end of March. The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.S. officials have said less about Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling than they have about an American reporter, Roxana Saberi, who was recently convicted of espionage in Iran. The strategy is partly a gamble that not provoking the North Koreans may lead to a speedy resolution, analysts say, but it's also a sign of the increased uncertainty in dealing with Pyongyang.
U.S. officials have said little about the journalists' situation, but have indicated they aren't making progress with Pyongyang. A person not in government who is familiar with the situation said that North Korea isn't talking to the U.S. at all.
Here's from a McClatchy story (h/t Andrew Sullivan):
North Korea appears to be holding the women in a protocol house in Pyongyang.
"The rumor was that they are being housed at one of the guest villas," said Han S. Park, a University of Georgia expert who was visiting North Korea as part of a private U.S. delegation after the women were captured. Park told CNN International that the North Koreans scoffed at any suggestion that the Americans were receiving harsh treatment.
"They laughed. 'We are not Guantanamo.' That's what they said," Park said.
Still, it's a worrisome situation. Washington has far more dialogue and slowly warming relations with Tehran. More importantly, both governments had something at stake in ensuring the Saberi incident didn't become the Saberi fiasco.
Not so with Lee and Ling, and the U.S. and North Korean governments. Even if the Swedish diplomat who conducts relations for the U.S. managed to negotiate for their release, he'd have few obvious carrots or sticks to reach for, and the DPRK would have little reason to be magnanimous.
I also hope the U.S. considers releasing or charging the foreign journalist it has in custody in Iraq. The U.S. says that Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam, arrested in a raid on his home in September, poses a threat to security and continues to hold him -- despite an Iraqi court ruling this winter that he should be freed.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
"That's the problem when one tries to fight tax evasion with Gordon Brown. It is as likely to succeed as if one were trying to fight the Mafia with Silvio Berlusconi."
The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee writes to FP:
To the Editor:Senator Lugar wrote about public diplomacy for ForeignPolicy.com in February.
I was pleased to read yesterday "The Science of Diplomacy" by Vaughan Turekian and Kristin Lord. They have the right idea to dispatch "good-will ambassadors" from America's scientific community. Such representation will demonstrate not only our nation's tradition of excellence in education but our willingness to cooperate with experts from other nations.
While various NGOs have been providing excellent opportunities for making these connections, I believe it is time for U.S. government to establish a more formal program of Science Envoys to be run by the Department of State. With that in mind, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved S. 838, a bill establishing such an Envoy program, which I had introduced with co-sponsorship by Senators Kerry and Cardin. Such a formal setup will help showcase the emphasis we as a society place on scientific achievement, an endeavor for which we are truly admired and respected around the world.
Richard G. Lugar
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.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Liberia, with the aid of the World Bank, has been negotiating with vulture funds holding $1.2 billion of its debt. You know what vulture funds are, right? They’re evil hedge-fund types who buy up debt at pennies on the dollar, and then sue for repayment in full, with interest and penalties and everything.
Just look at the deal they drove in this case! Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, is going to have to pay them, er, nothing at all. The World Bank is kicking in $19 million, a few rich countries are matching that sum, and the vultures are walking away with a not-very-princely-at-all $38 million, or just 3 cents on the dollar. Which probably barely covers their legal fees, let alone the amount they paid for the debt in the first place.
Let's read that again: the World Bank and Liberian government negotiated a deal so that vulture funds holding $1.2 billion in debt ended up with a check for $38 million -- three percent!
It's distressing that Liberia got in such a bad fix. It needed to raise funds and banked on future growth to make the payments -- but a bloody civil war meant it couldn't. The original lenders decided to sell the loans off to vulture and hedge funds who drove a hard bargain. Which meant that at one point, Liberia owed seven times its national income to creditors.
So, the balance sheet -- in redux:
Ultimately, though, Liberia isn't the story here. Emerging market and developing economies, like Liberia, will be among the hardest-hit in the Great Recession. Unlike OECD countries, they won't be able to issue debt or raise funds easily. They'll need the help of the international community -- and especially international organizations -- to ensure that their loans come with advisement and affordable repayment options.
The hero here's the World Bank. Suddenly, it and the IMF -- especially the IMF, perhaps -- have become the world's most important international organizations.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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
Here at FP, we don't always pay much attention to U.S. domestic policy, obviously, and the tax-day tea parties confused us a bit. Why weren't the protesters dressed up as Native Americans (like in the Boston Tea Party) or Mad Hatters? Weren't top-bracket taxes higher under Reagan?
Regardless, we've glommed onto a U.S. domestic issue which suggests a foreign-policy disaster: the U.S. state of Texas threatening to secede. Texas Governor Rick Perry, angered, like the tea-bag-partiers, over Obama's spending and tax policies, has implied that Texas might leave the Union.
So what would Texas look like as a foreign country?
It would be the world's thirteenth largest economy -- bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.
On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn't look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country -- though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)
So, Texas would need to court Mexico and Central American nations as a trading partners and protectors. Those very nations would also pose a host of problems for Texas. President Perry might find friends in anti-U.S. nations like Venezuela and Cuba, but their socialist politics would rankle the libertarian nation.
And Texas would become a conduit for drugs moving north to the United States from Mexico, maybe even becoming a narco-state. It would need to invest heavily in its own military and policing force to stop drug violence within its borders -- taking away valuable resources from, oh, feeding its people, fending off U.S. border incursions, and improving its standing in the world.
In short: the state of Texas would rapidly become direly impoverished, would need to be heavily armed, and would be wracked with existential domestic and foreign policy threats. It would probably make our failed states list in short order. Probably better to pay the damn taxes.
And of course -- Texas isn't seceding. Only regions in civil war or self-governing areas in very weak states manage independence. Perry was floating a piece of asinine political rhetoric, running a heated race against fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson and courting small-government conservatives of all stripes. Plus, more importantly, Texas can't secede, according to the 1869 Supreme Court Case, Texas v. White. Ah well.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Chuck Norris has offered to be President of Texas, greatly reducing the possible internal threat of unionists or external threat of U.S. military forces to the seceded country. (H/t Ezra Klein.)
Photo: Flickr user Susan E. Gray
In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
In a widely publicized move, the Obama administration is due to finally and officially announce its easing of restrictions to Cuba. U.S. citizens will now be able to travel and send money to the country more easily. (See FP's photo essay on Cuba for more details; and this FP article by Nestor Carbonell for a convincing argument against rushing into engagement.)
The Miami Herald says the announcement, to be made this afternoon, is meant to coincide with the Summit of the Americas, which starts on Friday in Trinidad and is attended by heads-of-state from North and South American countries.
Thankfully -- apparently the pet-poisoning revelation hasn't hurt relations.
The Hill reports that in 2007 Cuba poisoned the pet animals of U.S. diplomats working in the country:
The 64-page report written in 2007 states that the life of U.S. diplomats serving in the U.S. Interest Section (USINT) - which issues visas and performs other diplomatic services in Havana - was laden with poor morale "in part because USINT life in Havana is life with a government that ‘let's [sic] you know it's hostile'"....
"Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks."
The report comes just as the Obama administration is attempting to strengthen relations and ease strictures on the Communist country. Which begs the question: who decided it release it now?
If you only think of genocide when you hear the name "Rwanda," it's time to think again.
Today, Rwanda is moving forward, fervently set on rebranding itself into one of Africa's most investment-friendly havens. And it appears to have some of America's most recognizable names in business in its corner. A just-published article in Fast Company counts the CEOs of Starbucks and Costco as two of the Rwanda's most influential supporters, along with the likes of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, former British PM Tony Blair, and Pastor Rick Warren of "Purpose-Driven" fame. All seem to praise the Rwandan government -- and especially President Paul Kagame -- for being serious about making the country's business climate as streamlined and free of bureaucratic hassles as possible, which is certainly an anomaly in much of the developing world. (Registering a business in Rwanda apparently takes less than 48 hours.)
An article in Fortune called "Why CEOs love Rwanda" offers this money quote from Chicago financier Dan Cooper (who is credited with introducing Kagame to Costco CEO Jim Sinegal):
We came away saying, this is the most undervalued ‘stock' on the continent and maybe in the world. Here's an African nation that's reaching out, not to governments so much, but to corporate America. They want to work. They want U.S. business to bring innovation to their country."
But is this too good to be true? The country's new model of economic development is an interesting one; it's almost as if Kagame has torn a page out of Beijing's handbook. While Kagame can be credited with cracking down hard on government corruption and creating a competent administration in the country's capital of Kigali, there's always the problem of restricted political rights and civil liberties, which critics of the regime never fail to point out. The issue is certainly important, especially given Rwanda's long history of political violence.
But that said, the country's clearly moving forward. And apparently, the business world isn't the only one taking notice. Last year, the United States signed a bilateral investment treaty with Rwanda -- the first such treaty signed between the U.S. and any Sub-Saharan African country in almost a decade.
Fifteen years after genocide, this is Rwanda rising.
Hat tip: Africamusings
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Not such a good Friday for Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Just last week, her name emerged as a possible ambassador to the Vatican. News outlets reported that Senator John Kerry (the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) recommended her for the role, lobbying U.S. President Barack Obama, who makes the appointments, on her behalf.
The rumor sparked outrage among Catholic groups, because Kennedy, who is Catholic, supports abortion rights, which the church vehemently opposes. One called it an "insult," saying, "It's inappropriate to appoint someone who pretends to be a Catholic but rejects the fundamental teachings of the church."
It seems that the Vatican has crossed names off of Obama's list. "At least three names...have been 'burned' even before the proposal of nomination could be made formally, because they were unwelcome to the church," one Italian journalist wrote, as translated by the Washington Times. (The Vatican denies the allegation.)
The United States has never appointed a pro-choice ambassador to the Holy See.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The six-person U.S. congressional delegation visiting Cuba yesterday reported a productive first session of discussions on how to normalize the two countries' relations. That will be a long, long road, but the momentum is growing. Restrictions on travel and remittances are rumored to be on the policy chopping block soon. The delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus was not sent from President Obama -- though carrying the self stated goal to "listen and talk" -- they became the first lawmakers to speak with Cuban officials since the president took office.
Praising Richard Lugar's call to amend U.S.-Cuba policy:
those capable of serenely analyzing the events, as is the case of the senator from Indiana, use an irrefutable argument: The measures of the United States against Cuba, over almost half a century, are a total failure."
Calling for dialogue with the U.S.:
There is no need to emphasize what Cuba has always said: We do not fear dialogue with the United States. Nor do we need confrontation to exist, as some foolish people think. We exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we have never feared dialogue with the adversary. That [discussion] is the only way to build friendships among people."
But remaining staunch on the Cuban revolution:
The Cuban revolution, which the embargo and the dirty war were not able to destroy, is based upon ethical and political principles; it is for this reason that it has been able to resist [attempts to destroy it]."
As I said, it's a long -- if increasingly well-lit -- road ahead.
Peter Feaver says the United States is losing to Europe in the soft power battle. But when it comes to commitment to cute power, nobody tops the Japanese.
In a bid to raise its international profile, Tokyo has appointed three young women as cultural envoys because they represent Japan's long-running craze for all things cute.
Inspired by the characters in Japan's distinctive "anime" animated films and "manga" cartoon books, one of the new ambassadors dresses as a schoolgirl, another as a Victorian doll in voluminous frilly skirts.
The third of the women, presented at a news conference on Thursday, was a singer dressed in a polka dot shirt with a bunny print, offset by bouffant back-combed hair, a look that has made her a fashion leader in Tokyo teens' favorite haunt, Harajuku.
Japan wants to exploit the popularity of the "kawaii" (cute) culture, which has influenced young people in Asia and Europe.
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