This may be the fresh approach American foreign policy has been looking for. According to The Miami Herald, U.S. Amb. James Cason has become a singing sensation in Paraguay after learning the native Guaraní language and recording an album of indigenous folk songs.
Cason, who became ambassador to Paraguay in 2005, has become quite the hit. His songs are in heavy rotation on local radio stations and he drew 1,000 to a sold-out downtown concert. He's used the proceeds from the concert and album sales to raise over $20,000 for English-language education scholarships, gaining plenty of attention from the locals along the way:
He's been on TV and in all the newspapers,'' said Nelson Viveros, 16, who traveled to meet the ambassador recently in Encarnación, by the Argentina border. "It's strange, but people love it.''
Not everyone is convinced. One Paraguyan senator, who has asked Paraguay's legislature to denounce Cason, said the diplomat "sings horribly and his pronunciation of Guaraní words is stammering. It is an offense to the Paraguayan people."
Yesterday, Pyongyang submitted a long-overdue declaration of its nuclear programs to China, in accordance with agreements made during the six-party talks. U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed the move as "one step in the multi-step process laid out by the six-party talks," immediately lifted the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act, and notified Congress of his intent to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
What does all this mean in practice? The Bush administration's moves are highly symbolic, and unlikely to have any immediate, practical impact. Most U.S. sanctions based on the Trading with the Enemy Act (pdf) were already lifted in 2000, and most of those still in place are authorized by an overlapping hodgepodge of other laws and regulations. Minor changes will go into effect -- for instance, some imports from North Korea will no longer require licenses -- but for the most part trade policies will remain unchanged.
Bush's intention to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terror list is a similarly symbolic gambit; the actual removal cannot go into effect for 45 days after the notification to Congress, and in any case it is probably contingent on verifying North Korea's nuclear declaration. Countries on the terror list cannot receive, among other things, U.S. economic aid or loans from the World Bank and other financial institutions. Removing North Korea from the list may allow more money to flow in, but, as a U.S. Treasury spokesman noted yesterday, sanctions aimed at preventing money laundering, illicit finance, and weapons proliferation will remain firmly in place.
Practicalities aside, this development has rightly been hailed as a diplomatic success; the New York Times today declared it a "triumph." The path to a denuclearized North Korea is still long and the process could easily be derailed at any point, but it is nice to finally have some reason, however slight, for optimism.
The U.S. embassy in Cairo is a fortress-like compound, sequestered in the leafy, decaying neighborhood of Garden City along the east bank of the Nile. Merely to stand before the outer blast wall, you have to pass through a security checkpoint and explain your business.
But maybe the U.S. mission to Egypt isn't as impregnable as it seems. A body was recently discovered on the embassy's lush grounds, and Margaret Scobey, the new U.S. ambassador, has demanded a full-scale investigation. The body was sent out for autopsy to experts in Cairo and swiftly returned to the United States for burial.
Thing is, it's the ambassador's dog that we're talking about, not a person. The animal might have died accidentally after eating poison intended for feral cats. But Scobey wants to make sure, pan-Arab daily al-Hayat reports:
Americans in Egypt say that the ambassador's state of extreme anger has forced the embassy's security to cooperate [with] Egyptian authorities in spending considerable time on proving that the incident was not a premeditated attack and that the embassy's security measures, employees and the ambassador's home and household are safe. After all, a successful attempt to murder the ambassador's dog sends a message that it is possible to commit the same crime against Americans working at the ambassador's home or against the ambassador herself.
(Hat tip: Brian Whitaker)
I see that Andrew Sullivan wants Barack Obama to keep Bob Gates as his secretary of defense if he wins in November. That would certainly be neat, but it remains highly implausible. Matt Yglesias and Spencer Ackerman suggest a few alternatives from within the Democratic Party, some more realistic than others.
Barack Obama is fond of citing Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, not least because the Illinois senator styles himself as Lincoln's heir, but also because, as he put it to Time's Joe Klein, "The lesson is to not let your ego or grudges get in the way of hiring absolutely the best people."
But if Obama really wanted to put this proposition to the test, he might consider bringing Richard Holbrooke into the fold. Holbrooke, a Democratic Party heavyweight on foreign policy and the point man on the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian civil war, was conspicuously absent from Obama's national-security working group, announced Wednesday.
Yes, Holbrooke strongly backed Hillary Clinton in the primary, which probably wasn't a good way to endear him to the eventual nominee. But I mention Holbrooke because of his famous feud with Anthony Lake, who was Bill Clinton's first national security advisor and is now a key member of Team Obama's inner circle. As the late David Halberstam recounts in War In a Time Peace, his book on Clinton-era foreign policy, Holbrooke and Lake were once close friends and rising stars in the diplomatic establishment. But their friendly rivalry turned ugly when Holbrooke was made ambassador to Germany instead of scoring a top job. Halberstam writes:
His slippage in the pecking order in the world of foreign policy was especially painful for Holbrooke friends thought, because Lake ended up with one of the two prized jobs, national security adviser. Their friendship had always had an unstated competitive quality, and now Lake seemed to be the clear winner and had, in Holbrooke's eyes, worked against his place in the administration. As a result, a simmering tension now existed between the two old friends, turning them into genuine enemies.
Their relationship was apparently no better when Holbrooke returned from the German wilderness to take the lead on Bosnia:
Their personal friendship, once so close, had long ago been shattered, and they worked in an atmosphere of barely disguised rivalry and distrust.
So, if he really wanted to be the second coming of Lincoln, Obama would put his money where his mouth is and bring Holbrooke back. At the least, it might inject some much-needed drama back into the campaign.
The Telegraph reports on top Obama advisor Richard Danzig's recent talk at the Center for a New American Security. "Winnie the Pooh seems to me to be a fundamental text on national security," Danzig began.
Mr Danzig spelt out the need to change by reading a paragraph from chapter one of the children's classic, which says: "Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump on the back of his head behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming down stairs. But sometimes he thinks there really is another way if only he could stop bumping a minute and think about it."
Danzig was secretary of the Navy in the Clinton administration and would be a prime contender for national security advisor if Obama won in November.
The authors of the controversial book on the influence of the Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy have made their first trip to Israel since the book was published. A few hundred students and faculty at Hebrew University turned out to see Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer argue their case. The result? A lively and largely cordial debate. Their visit had its fair share of detractors, but a threatened boycott failed to materialize. In fact, this is about as heated as it got:
International relations student Liad Gilhar, 25, accused the professors of distorting facts and providing fodder for anti-Semites.
"You need to choose your words carefully," Gilhar said.
Walt shot back: "With all due respect, I don't think it is my words that harm Israel, but rather Israel's actions."
A professor criticized the authors for failing to condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. "I don't think he is inciting to genocide," Walt responded.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright fears that it is:
THE Burmese government's criminally neglectful response to last month's cyclone, and the world's response to that response, illustrate three grim realities today: totalitarian governments are alive and well; their neighbors are reluctant to pressure them to change; and the notion of national sovereignty as sacred is gaining ground, helped in no small part by the disastrous results of the American invasion of Iraq. Indeed, many of the world's necessary interventions in the decade before the invasion — in places like Haiti and the Balkans — would seem impossible in today’s climate.
I'm not so sure Burma represents the best test case here. Can we really imagine a Haiti-style intervention in one of the world's most xenophobic countries? We're not talking about a failed state here, but a paranoid, Stalinist military junta that would need to be violently shoved aside in order for a Haiti-like receivership to take hold.
There's another thing Albright doesn't take into account: the China factor. Guess who is not too enthusiastic about humanitarian intervention in places like Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, and guess who's vastly more powerful than in the 90s?
UPDATE: Yglesias chimes in.
A new poll by CBS News reveals some serious gloom: 61 percent of Americans polled believe Iraq will never become a stable democracy, up eight percentage points since September. Have they all been reading ForeignPolicy.com?
Here's the question: Which of these do you think is most likely?
Iraq will become a stable democracy in the next year or two
Iraq will become a stable democracy, but it will take longer than a year or two
Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy
Apparently you don't have to be an opposition leader seeking democratic reforms to get arrested in Zimbabwe -- just being a foreign diplomat can be enough. U.S. and British diplomats were seized by Zimbabwean police today while visiting victims of political violence carried out by the government of President Robert Mugabe, whom human rights groups accuse of creating famine and starvation for political purposes.
Here's James D. McGee, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, describing the incident to CNN:
Police put up a roadblock, stopped the vehicles, slashed the tires, reached in and grabbed telephones from my personnel, and the war veterans (Mugabe's supporters) threatened to burn the vehicles with my people inside unless they got out and accompanied police to a station nearby."
McGee added that his embassy felt the orders were "coming directly from the top." Whoever gave the orders, threatening to burn foreign dignitaries alive is a step beyond the usual Mugabe bullying. It's sickening.
Will this be the moment when Thabo Mbeki finally stops covering for the crazy man next door? As the leader of the powerhouse, a country with a long history of friendship and cooperation with Mugabe, the South African president has unique leverage on Harare, but he has, if anything, shielded Mugabe from accountability. It's time for President Bush to pressure Mbeki and other African leaders to handle the mess in their own backyards, and if that doesn't work, take matters to the Security Council. The apologetics need to end now.
With U.S. media oxygen consumed by the Hillary-Barack contretemps, few have paid much attention to a brewing drama in Iraq.
At issue is an update to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, a document that legally defines the terms under which American troops can function in Iraq. The deal is being negotiated in secret, but a few preliminary details have leaked out. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent reports:
Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.
Obviously, these terms could change in the face of Iraqi opposition, and there is already talk of political workarounds such as making the bases officially Iraqi bases with U.S. tenants. Iraqi officials have also threatened to make other arrangements if their sovereignty isn't fully respected. An Iraqi lawmaker testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday urged the United States "not to embarrass the Iraqi government (by) putting it in a difficult situation with this agreement" right now. The Bush administration doesn't believe that Congress needs to approve any deal, however, maintaining that the SOFA is not a formal treaty.
Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was especially harsh in his criticism, telling fellow Muslim leaders at a conference in Riyadh, "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves before the Americans, if it is sealed."
Former Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi offers a more measured assessent, but nonetheless condemns the secrecy surrounding the agreement:
A treaty of such singular significance to Iraq cannot be rammed through with less than a few weeks of debate. Otherwise, the proposed strategic alliance will most certainly be a divisive element in Iraqi politics. It will have the same disastrous effect as the treaty with Britain nearly eighty years ago.
The security situation is looking up these days. But a flawed agreement could be the spark that brings all the gains of the past year crashing down.
UPDATE: U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker flatly denies the Cockburn story.
On the subject of international media reactions to Obama's win, Le Monde's Corine Lesnes practically swoons over the Illinois senator, placing him in the same category as Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Noting Obama's multinational family tree and appeal around the world, she also calls him America's first "global candidate." She can't help but note that "he doesn't speak any foreign languages (except Indonesian)," however.
It makes sense that a French newspaper article would be the first place I had ever seen the presidential candidates' foreign-language skills mentioned. But given that I already know more about Obama's basketball skills and the condition of John McCain's prostate than I ever really wanted to, it seems like this would have come up at some point. After a little Googling I found that Obama told The Hill that in addition to Indonesian, he speaks "a little Spanish." As far as I can determine, McCain doesn't speak any languages.
The leader of the free world probably doesn't actually need to know foreign languages to have a good grasp of foreign affairs (and for what it's worth, I've personally witnessed Nicolas Sarkozy attempt English and it wasn't pretty) but it might be something to keep in mind the next time candidates get all sanctimonious about educating America's youth to compete in the global economy.
This morning, attendees at AIPAC's policy conference in Washington heard remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner and -- the main event -- Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
As one might imagine, the speakers' remarks focused heavily on the relationship between Israel and the United States and security threats from Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Reid, for instance, reaffirmed his party's commitment to Israel, calling such a commitment "an American value." The majority leader also said that "America will never allow Israel's existence to be threatened."
Following a raucous standing ovation, Senator Obama -- whose pro-Israel credentials have come under scrutiny throughout the campaign -- strove to leave few doubts in his remarks:
I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security. Not when there are still voices that deny the Holocaust. Not when there are terrorist groups and political leaders committed to Israel's destruction. Not when there are maps across the Middle East that don't even acknowledge Israel’s existence, and government-funded textbooks filled with hatred toward Jews."
In addition, Obama said that as president, he would do everything in his power to "eliminate" the Iranian threat, an apparent rebuttal to Senator John McCain's speech at the same podium Monday night that charged Obama as soft on Iran.
If you thought that Hillary Clinton might begin her exit from the race after Obama virtually clinched the Democratic nomination last night, think again. Clinton, while praising Obama as "a good friend to Israel," doesn't seem to be going anywhere just yet. Speaking as if she still might have a shot at being commander in chief, the New York senator reiterated how she "has always been very specific" about how her foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East would be constructed. She was adamant that a Democrat be elected in November, but she still seems to think, or hope, that it will be her.
Last night, seven Palestinians received word that their Fulbright scholarships would not be given away to other students. On Thursday, the students, who call the Gaza Strip home, had been notified that their scholarships were being "redirected." The reason? Since the June 2007 blockade began, Gazans have not been able to secure travel visas from the Israeli government for any reason other than pressing humanitarian concern. And although the Fulbright program is now optimistic because the Israeli government has finally acknowledged the visa applications and agreed to an interview process to take place in Jerusalem, the Israelis still reserve the right to deny the visas.
The very day before the students had their scholarships taken away, the Israeli Knesset's Education Committee had petitioned the Israeli Defense Ministry to reconsider restrictions on visas for students. Michael Melchior, chair of the Committee had this to say:
We are a nation that for years was prevented from studying - how can we do the same thing to another people?"
News of the reversal is good for Palestinians who wish to study in the United States, but there are reportedly around 670 students with similar scholarships for study in Europe and elsewhere whose fate is yet unknown. Today, the Israeli Supreme Court heard the petitions of two such students hoping to travel to Germany and Great Britain, and some of the justices have already made their positions clear:
Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein expressed discomfort with the ban on allowing students from Gaza to study abroad, telling the State Attorney that the ban seems 'no less harmful to the Israeli interest, because we have to live with the Palestinians in the future, too.'
If the Fulbright program weren't one of the crown jewels of American public diplomacy, Israel might never have come under real pressure to reexamine its restrictions on travel in and out of the Gaza Strip. But now that it has, the intellectual potentials of nearly 700 Palestinians hang in the balance.
That's how one Bush administration official characterized the talks to the New York Times's Helene Cooper. Both Cooper and Robin Wright of the Washington Post have written remarkably similar news analyses today, portraying yesterday's big day for diplomacy in the Middle East as evidence of the U.S.'s diminishing diplomatic influence in the region.
Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives voted 324-84 to permit the U.S. Justice Department to sue OPEC for manipulating oil supplies and prices. Fortunately, the White House opposes the measure, saying that going after OPEC countries "would likely spur retaliatory action against American interests in those countries."
Rep. Steve Kagen, a Wisconsin Democrat who sponsored the legislation, issued a press release that said, "American consumers remain at the mercy of OPEC nations." Hmmm … Americans, living in one of the wealthiest and most innovative countries on Earth, are helpless weaklings who survive at the mercy of others? Perhaps they should pay attention to columnist Thomas Friedman when he said:
It baffles me that President Bush would rather go to Saudi Arabia twice in four months and beg the Saudi king for an oil price break than ask the American people to drive 55 miles an hour, buy more fuel-efficient cars or accept a carbon tax or gasoline tax that might actually help free us from what he called our “addiction to oil.”
If you were waiting to see who Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is supporting in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, it looks like you're going to be disappointed. Chavez sat down for an informal interview last Thursday with a group of visiting American newspaper editors and refused to bite:
Of the American presidential candidates, Chávez said, "It would be a lie to say I have no preference." But "I shouldn't say anything that would be used against someone."
The 20 editors spoke with Chavez for about 90 minutes on topics ranging from baseball (He's a Yankees fan, ironically.) to his relationship with Fidel Castro. He also stressed that the bombastic anti-American rhetoric he has used in the past is directed at the U.S. government, not ordinary Americans, and certainly not his friends in Hollywood:
I beg for forgiveness if in my speech I've hurt any feelings back in the States. I ask for forgiveness. When I speak about the United States, I do not refer to the people, to the citizens. I refer to the elite that is governing the United States - and not even referring to all of the elite governing the United States. Because we have friends among the elite governing the US. The economic elite, we have friends. We have friends among the cultural elite of the United States . . . Danny Glover. Kevin Spacey came over here. Sean Penn. Those are my friends, close friends . . . And when they come over here, they say what they like and what they don't like. And we still are friends. And that's what we want. We want to be friends. And I hope that with the new government we can then open new space for exchange - and discuss.
Chavez isn't getting too cozy though. He still worries about the U.S. invading to steal his country's oil wealth and is looking into buying more weapons from Russia to guard against this threat. He was also pretty evasive when asked about whether he planned to leave power when his term runs out in 2013, saying, "I don't think the Venezuelan people, at least part of the people, would allow me to get too far away from politics."
With his arch-nemesis on the way out, Chavez may be hoping to boost his appeal to the American population. But given how integral the image of Chavez as a third-world underdog railing against North American neoliberalism is to his appeal and legitimacy in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, it seems unlikely that he would ever get to friendly with the U.S., no matter who's sitting in the White House.
The Bush administration is currently debating a plan to sell 66 advanced F-16 jets to Taiwan. The F-16 sale was a recurring theme in a panel discussion Monday at the Carnegie Endowment on cross-straits relations featuring Bonnie Glaser of CSIS, Michael Swaine of Carnegie, and Douglas H. Paal, Carnegie's new China program director.
The participants presented somewhat differing opinions on the diplomatically sensitive move. Swaine doesn't see a good time for U.S. approval of the sale in the near to medium term. Glaser, on the other hand, feels it will happen because postponing the sale until the next administration risks getting off on the wrong foot with China. She recommends the window after the Olympics but before Bush leaves office. Carnegie's Minxin Pei weighed in that if the sale goes forward, China would likely respond negatively to a request by Taiwan to withdraw some of the 1,000 balistic missiles aimed at it. But it's not as if jets and missiles are easily equated military capabilities in tit-for-tat negotiations, Glaser said.
Glaser also remarked how this underscores a differing approach to cross-straits negotiations where some, including the U.S., view defense aid to Taiwan as a necessary precursor to productive negotiations as it gives the island nation a more solid footing on which to withstand threats. Others, namely China, strongly respond to arms sales as obstacles to diplomacy which discourage cross-straits engagement.
The State Department wants to delay the F-16 issue until after the Olympics, but I agree that if the U.S. is going to do this, it would be much better to sweep it under the rug of the outgoing administration so the new administration can chalk it up to "change" or whatever they're into at that point.
President Bush's Knesset speech is getting a lot of attention today for what appeared to be a veiled swipe at Barack Obama, implying that those who suggest negotiations with Iran are repeating the mistakes made during the lead-up to World War II: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.'' Leaving aside whether the remark was aimed at Obama, (and Obama certainly thinks it was) is it really necessary for politicians to constantly invoke the Holocaust when speaking about international affairs with Jewish audiences, as if that's the only analogy through which they can understand security threats? For the record, some Israeli politicians are just as guilty of this.
"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.''
Leaving aside whether the remark was aimed at Obama, (and Obama certainly thinks it was) is it really necessary for politicians to constantly invoke the Holocaust when speaking about international affairs with Jewish audiences, as if that's the only analogy through which they can understand security threats? For the record, some Israeli politicians are just as guilty of this.
Anyway, Bush may claim to be horrified at the idea of negotiating with terrorist-supporting regimes, but his administration actually appears to have dropped its opposition to once-taboo negotiations between Israel and Syria in recent weeks. This would seem to support the view that Bush's remarks had more to do with U.S. politics than the reality of Israel's security.
Laura Rozen has much more on Bush's last chance to advance the peace process in her FP web-exclusive this week and today's photo essay explores Israel and Syria's continuing conflict over the Golan Heights.
Responding to a question from the Politico about why he hasn't played golf in recent years, U.S. President George W. Bush said:
"… playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."
Admittedly, it's probably a bigger sacrifice than most Americans have made so far, as suggests the recent FP article, "The War We Deserve."
(Note: A quick search of Getty Images seems to confirm Bush's sacrifice: The site doesn't appear to have any photos of Bush playing golf after Oct. 13, 2003. There are, however, many photos of him driving golf carts, such as the one here of Bush giving his wife Laura and Afghan President Hamid Karzai a ride at Camp David, Maryland, in August 2007.)
In today's Washington Post, Mike Gerson quite rightly lambasts the "Coburn Seven" -- seven Senate Republicans who are all but blocking expanded funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Unfortunately, what Gerson ignores is the GOP's long history of failure and ignorance on the HIV/AIDS front. This sad history dates to the very founding of the contemporary conservative movement. It was Ronald Reagan, the revered Godfather, who remained silent as tens of thousands of Americans died and a pandemic was spread to more than 100 countries around the globe. Even as Reagan did nothing to combat AIDS, his surrogates in the extreme right opined that the disease was a divinely-inspired retaliation on liberalism. It was Pat Buchanan, Reagan's White House communications director, who called AIDS "nature's revenge on gay men." Such sentiments proliferated as the power of the GOP's religious right-wing coalesced in the 1990s. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, for instance, famously called for those infected with HIV/AIDS to be "isolated from the general population" in 1992. He stood by the statement in his 2008 presidential campaign.
When historians sit down to assess the modern conservative movement a generation or two from now, among the most severe tarnishes on the GOP's legacy will be Guantanamo and record deficits. There also will be the string of painfully ignorant policies the party has held on HIV/AIDS. To his credit, George W. Bush has probably done more than any conservative politician of his generation to reverse this tragic legacy -- more, perhaps, than any liberal politician, too. PEPFAR has provided life-sustaining anti-AIDS drugs to 1.4 million patients in the countries hardest hit by the disease. It may be the most favorably remembered foreign policy initiative of Bush's entire tenure. And in his January State of the Union address, the President proposed a long-overdue doubling of the effort.
It looked as though the GOP had finally found its moorings on combating a disease that, in a number of African countries, now affects more than 1 in 5 adults. But a small GOP minority once again appears poised to force the United States to take a backseat in the fight. As Gerson says, it will come at a price paid in lives. Unfortunately, it won't be the first time.
Speaking in Jerusalem today, George Bush was uncharacteristically modest about his expectations for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during the rest of his term:
"I'm not running for the Nobel Peace Prize. I'm just trying to be a guy to use the influence of the United States to move the process along," Bush said.
Being that guy may force a president desperate for a foreign policy victory to back away from one of his administration's central stated principles: the refusal to negotiate with regimes hostile to the U.S. and Israel. In a new web-exclusive argument for FP, journalist Laura Rozen explores the possibility of Bush overhauling his diplomatic posture in the Middle East this late in the game:
Though the Bush administration seems unlikely to do a “Nixon goes to China” with Iran at this late date, in some isolated cases it does appear to be at least flirting with a different approach. Recent weeks have seen numerous reports of indirect proximity talks and back-channel diplomacy between Israel and Syria, on the one hand, and between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, on the other. In both cases, Washington’s role is curious, officially condemning calls for any sort of dialogue with Hamas while at the same time, seemingly tacitly endorsing Egypt’s role as a cease-fire broker between Israel and Hamas.
Read the full piece here.
The U.S. needs the UN according to a new report by Alistair Millar and Eric Rosand, of the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation titled, Building Global Alliances in the Fight Against Terrorism. Both authors spoke on Friday afternoon at the New America Foundation along with Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens. The speakers point out that if we can stress the common security interests of all nations, the UN will once again function as an effective international body. Fighting terrorism is one issue that requires nothing less than the whole world's attention, but it is also a divisive issue. The UN has so far failed to even agree on a definition of terrorism, though Eric Rosand had a good working one: "Politically motivated violence against civilians."
The main argument is that the United States is missing an opportunity to work with the United Nations in its global fight against terrorism. The speakers were careful to stress they are not suggesting the fight be handed over to the UN. Instead, the U.S. should use the platform as underlying support for its existing efforts while maintaining sovereignty over U.S. interests. They believe that many bi-lateral negotiations are perceived as American sledgehammering and may be better received through the lens of third party. Policy recommendations include the appointment of a counterterrorism czar in the White House (non-military in nature), and the formation of a global counterterrorism body.
While I agree that the U.S. cannot "go it alone" in the war on terror, the bottom line is that unilateralism is a direct result of international lack of will. The United States has gone it alone in part because of the inaction of the UN and its member states. Hezbollah is a prime example of this inaction. Under UN resolutions enacted in 2004 and 2006, Lebanese militias were to be disarmed. In April of this year, the security council adopted a presidential statement reiterating this. Instead, over the past few days Hezbollah has taken over half of Beirut.
While I like the idea of a future with international cooperation and committment to fighting terrorism, I think we need to first make sure the international community is interested in bearing the costs to achieve results. And state-sponsored terror is going to be a big obstacle in this process.
It looks like one of the last bits of business of the Vladimir Putin presidency may have been the expulsion of two military attachés from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. The move could be retaliation for the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Washington in recent months. For those hoping that U.S.-Russia relations might improve under the Medvedev presidency, this is not a promising sign.
CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a smart talk earlier this week about where the world is headed and what role the United States will play in it (video). With the world population set to grow about 34 percent by mid-century, the agency will be especially attentive to demographic transitions in countries that can't sustain higher populations, he said. But Hayden also had a message for China:
On a very hopeful note, Hayden also said Americans have to start putting themselves in others' shoes:
[A] greater number of actors will have influence on the world stage in this century. And that presents one overriding challenge to those of us responsible for our nation's security: We must do a better job of understanding cultures, histories, religions, and traditions that are not our own. We must broaden our understanding, and guard against viewing the world exclusively through an American prism. We must not rely exclusively on an American—or even more broadly, Western—lens in assessing foreign challenges and helping policymakers decide how to respond.
The New America Foundation's Steve Coll and Peter Bergen were on CNN the other day, and they made some encouraging comments to Wolf Blitzer:
WOLF BLITZER (Host): [...] What's the latest in terms of the hunt for bin Laden? Is the U.S. and the West any closer to finding him?
STEVE COLL (President, CEO of New America Foundation): Well, I'm not aware of any specific intelligence that has lit up the trail in the last six months or so, but the circumstances in which he's hiding have changed. And he's probably in Pakistan and there his popularity has declined considerably, and also you've got a new government in power, so the motivations on the Pakistani side are changing very quickly.
BLITZER: What do you think, Peter?
PETER BERGEN (New America's Schwartz Senior Fellow): Yes, I think the hunt for bin Laden is going very poorly. As Steve said, bin Laden's support is evaporating in the North-West Frontier Province, where he's almost certainly hiding. A recent poll showed he had dropped from 70 percent favorable in August of 2007 to 4 percent.
BLITZER: So wouldn't that make it easier for Pakistani or other -- or the U.S., Afghan troops, somebody to find him?
PETER BERGEN: Yes. And I think the short answer is yes. Also a very sharp decline in support for suicide bombings amongst Pakistanis. Unfortunately, on the other hand, you have got a Pakistani government which is doing a deal with some of the militants in the North-West Frontier Province at the same time. So as always, sort of a mixed message here with the Pakistanis.
If the Pakistanis can convince those militants to dime out their special guest, it might all be worth it.
(Hat tip: Sameer Lalwani)
The conclusions on Pakistan are likely to garner the most attention, and quite rightly. Watch for more calls like this one for a three-front war.
Cindy L writes in response to "Think Again: The Peace Corps":
Heh, wonder if Robert Strauss would have jumped to the same conclusions about me. Back in '83-'85, fresh out of college, I was a 'generalist,' one of those fluent Spanish speakers sent to Africa he suggests were misplaced. Would he have read my mind and heart and assumed that I, too, was in it for subsidized travel experience or bolstering my resume. [...] [O]ur volunteer group consisted of 16 or so -- some had advanced degrees, one was at Harvard Law, another from MIT, and guess what, the specialists did not outperform the nonspecialists. The Peace Corps cannot solely be blamed for not using my Spanish, as I, already familiar with Latin culture because of my Colombian background, chose to take advantage of the travel opportunity to go to Africa--not for a some exotic fun, but because I could learn more there. It took me a whopping 3 months to become [fully conversant] in Setswana, big deal. And yes, I learned it not in the training classrooms, but in the bars, in the village, dancing, running village trails, and hanging with the natives--mostly the poor, but also the rich. [...]
[E]ven when I did accomplish good things -- development things -- the locals appreciated not what I did, but who I was. For [example], my generalist self got to the village and realized we had no electricity, no water, nothing to teach agriculture with, and most of all very low morale. So I went into the capital, taught myself how to build a water catchment tank and how to write grants, raised money, got supplies, electrified the school, put up fencing for gardening, built the swimming pool size tank. But what I was always noted for was not those things, but for getting sporting goods and starting various sporting teams that became competitive against better-supplied, established schools. It was running through the village with my students, sending them on distance runs with papers to be signed w/split times by store or bar clerks. It was speaking the language, hanging out.
Development got done, but the greatest value was the cross-cultural component, the public relations, and what *I* learned and took home with me, that will stay with me for a lifetime, affecting what I do now and how I do it. The tax dollars went into me and my growth and now I'm pouring myself out for society.
Some of the political appointees, a phenomenon I noticed as well, did cause a few problems for me, in that they made some serious cultural mistakes (like insulting my landlord, which ended up being an insult to his uncle--the chief! which ended up getting the witch doctor after me), but mostly we volunteers just ignored or derived a chuckle from the clueless appointees.
Earlier on Passport:
Over at the Huffington Post, National Interest Senior Editor Jacob Heilbrunn worries that realists such as Kissinger and Scowcroft have failed to groom a generation of young Republicans to follow in their pragmatic foreign-policy footsteps:
[W]hile Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and other realist elders are consulted by [John] McCain, his heart is with the younger neocons, the 'beavers,' in the words of one McCain supporter, who draft the speeches and get the grunt work done ... the result is disastrous recommendations such as threatening to expel Russia from the G-8.... The gap -- and it is fundamental -- in the GOP today is generational. The elderly realists haven't groomed anyone to replace them. The neocons have."
I think the simplest explanation for why the neocon voices within the McCain campaign are the loudest is that in recent years McCain has most closely identified with them ideologically. That's why, as I pointed out a couple months ago, he surrounded himself with foreign-policy minds like Mark Salter, Daniel McKivergan, Marshall Wittmann, and Randy Scheunemann (though McCain has never really fully signed on to the neocon cause).
As for the generational gap between GOP realists and neocons, Heilbrunn is probably right that it exists. But when I talk to young Republicans, I get the sense that, thanks to the Iraq war, the problem will be self-correcting. Just because a group of young realists hasn't found a home in the McCain camp doesn't mean they aren't out there. Still, it is unfortunate that they had to come to their thinking based on a botched war instead of being groomed by the old guard.
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