Jonathan Farrar, an acting assistant secretary in charge of the U.S. State Department's annual human rights country reports, had this to say Tuesday about China's unexpected removal from the list of the 10 worst human-rights offenders:
Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remain the most systematic human rights violators. Here we would cite North Korea, Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan. Some authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform have experienced rapid social change, but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. China remains a case in point.
Looking at the list of countries above -- all of whom have terrible human rights records -- I have to wonder: Why not Saudi Arabia, where there is no formal constitution, women have very few rights, and "there is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom"? Is Iran really worse than China, which has "tens of thousands of political prisoners," according to the report? At least Iran has contested politics, even if the hardliners always seem to win these days. All of which is to say that State's criteria are pretty fuzzy, as is understandable given the unquantifiable nature of many of the issues in question. So why have the ranking at all?
The Obama campaign came out swinging Tuesday with a memo by former State Department Policy Planning chief Greg Craig -- who is most noted for defending Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial -- detailing the holes in Hillary Clinton's claims that she has amassed vast amounts of foreign-policy experience over the last 15 years. Since Clinton is making these claims, I guess they deserve a closer look. But in general, all this talk of a foreign-policy threshold for presidents is profoundly overdone.
Pop quiz: Name the presidents since World War II who might have passed this so-called threshold? Certainly not Clinton's own husband, who arguably came to office with the least-developed foreign policy mind of any 20th-century president. Ike, LBJ, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush are four who might pass "the threshold." Maybe Gerald Ford, who served more than two decades in the House, then was Nixon's veep. But the truth is, most presidents would not qualify, including JFK, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and, yes, Ronald Reagan, whom many credit with winning the Cold War.
I care deeply about foreign policy, so I'd like to think my choice in candidates is based in part upon their understanding and experience in the conduct of international affairs. But let's be honest: Experience is hardly a guarantee that a president's policies will be sound. Consider Nixon, who served two terms as vice president under General Eisenhower, then went on to no great glory in Vietnam. George H.W. Bush's victory in the first Gulf War looks good in hindsight, but many trash-talked him at the time for not taking out Saddam. Need I mention Dick Cheney? The idea that foreign-policy experience is a silly litmus test for presidents was pointed out with some eloquence by the New York Times' Helene Cooper in a piece which, unfortunately, ran last August while everyone was at the beach. It's worth going back to:
But does time spent as United Nations ambassador, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or first lady really cut much ice when you become commander in chief? A surprising number of experts on American presidencies said 'no.'"
It shouldn't be that surprising. There's just very little evidence that foreign-policy experience leads to good foreign policies in office.
As the space debris settles from the U.S. operation to take out its own satellite, the policy repercussions are quite clear: We have entered a new space age. Here's why, according to International Herald Tribune:
[O]fficials and experts have made it clear that the United States, for better or worse, is committed to having the capacity to wage war in space. And that, it seems likely, will prompt others to keep pace... What makes people want to ban war in space is exactly what keeps the Pentagon's war planners busy preparing for it: The United States has become so dependent on space that it has become the country's Achilles' heel."
This refers to the U.S. military's heavy use of satellite capabilities. So, was the United States wrong in brushing aside recent calls for de-weaponization of space? Not according to Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Space weapons are not the problem, he argues, nor is it effective to ostensibly ban them as Russia and China have proposed:
The biggest deficiency in the Russian-Chinese draft treaty is that it focuses on the wrong threat: weapons in space. There aren't any today, nor are there likely to be any in the immediate future. The threat to space assets is rather from weapons on earth -- the land- and sea-based kinetic, directed-energy and electromagnetic attack systems. The treaty entirely ignores these."
The United States' technological capabilities and needs are contributing to a loss of innocence in how the country approaches space. U.S. space policy has become a nearly impossible balancing act of maintaining defensive capabilities without becoming a strategic menace. If Tellis's argument -- that a treaty cannot provide the sweeping restrictions and enforcement necessary to keep space peaceful -- proves true, it implies an uncertain, worrisome future. The U.S. satellite shootdown may thus herald a bigger change than was anticipated. Could this have been "the kinetic kill vehicle heard 'round the world?"
Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's chief spokesman, tried to connect some dots this morning that have been bugging me since last week. If, as Clinton likes to suggest, Barack Obama has not met the "national security threshold," why is her campaign hinting that he would make such a good vice president -- someone who might someday have to step in as commander in chief?
Senator Clinton will not choose any candidate who has not at the time of choosing passed the national security threshold. But we have a long way to go until Denver, and [choosing Obama is] not something she's prepared to rule out at this point."
Come again? Wolfson must think it's possible to accumulate foreign-policy know-how in dog years. Politically speaking, I suppose a lot can happen between now and August 25. But this formulation will be lost on anyone who thinks seriously about international affairs. How exactly are Obama's qualifications to be commander in chief going to change radically over the next 24 weeks? By campaigning in Puerto Rico?
That's how Randy Scheunemann, who is overseeing foreign policy issues for John McCain's campaign, just summed up the obvious in a Council on Foreign Relations event here in Washington. After Mara Rudman, who is advising Hillary Clinton, very briefly addressed the issue of Clinton's foreign policy experience, Scheunemann chimed in with:
Please keep running those 3:00 A.M. ads about who you want to answer the phone, because we like those."
In other words, the more Clinton and Obama keep talking about how inexperienced the other is, the more it sticks for both.
Interestingly, Rudman highlighted Clinton's "travel and experiences on the ground" as first lady as proof that she's ready to answer that phone. If that's the "commander in chief threshold" that Clinton keeps talking about, it sounds pretty thin to me. At least as thin as Obama's argument that he lived for a while in Indonesia, and that somehow qualifies him to handle the complexities of the Middle East peace process, serve as commander in chief, and execute the other national security responsibilities of the Oval Office. In a dogfight with John McCain, Clinton and Obama had better have more bullets in the gun than that.
Time's Tim McGirk has a scoop from Israel, where U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been desperately trying to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Today, Rice announced that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would resume peace negotiations with Israel, despite Abbas's earlier position that he would only do so after a ceasefire in Gaza was in place. The backstory here is revealing:
Insiders say Rice, in heated talks yesterday with Abbas, threatened to cut off all international aid and support to the Palestinian Authority. Privately, Palestinian advisers say that Abbas was aghast at how Rice had failed to understand the level of outrage in the Arab world, and particularly among Palestinians, over the heavy civilian casualties that resulted in Israel's fierce air and ground assault last week in Gaza.
Helene Cooper and Graham Bowley of the New York Times add this nugget:
[Abbas's] position frustrated Bush administration officials who contended that he was giving Hamas a tactical victory by allowing it to hijack the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.... Despite his position, many Palestinian, American and Israeli officials say that, for political reasons, Mr. Abbas needs the peace process more than his Israeli and American counterparts.
Simply put, these officials are wrong. Yes, Abbas needs the peace process in general. But politically, he can't very well sit down with Ehud Olmert while Israeli bombs are killing Palestinian civilians. He needs to wait a decent interval until the fury dies down. By agreeing to pretend to negotiate instead of pretending not to negotiate, all he did was reinforce his image as an American-Israeli puppet -- and he will get no closer to a peace treaty by being dragged to the table against his will. And having Rice announce the reversal? That was the icing on the cake.
It's puzzling to me why it's so difficult for some to let go of the old 1990s formulation that the economy still matters most in elections.
"[I]t's really about the economy," declared a BusinessWeek headline yesterday morning. To be sure, the economy has played an important role in the campaign over the last couple weeks. But if Hillary Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas last night prove anything, isn't it the opposite? Voters are still very much in a Sept. 11th mindset. Clinton won last night in large part by beating Barack Obama two to one among voters who made their decision within the last three days of the race. And she did that by attacking his preparedness to handle national security, not the subprime crisis. Most notably via the now-infamous, and apparently effective, "It's 3:00 A.M...." ad.
Why did that strategy work? Because, as Michael Gerson points out in today's Washington Post, this is really the only issue on which Obama is beatable. Clinton insiders have, it appears, finally grasped this fact. "His vulnerability is experience and judgment on national security," Harold Ickes and Mark Penn wrote in a memo last night.
I suspect foreign policy is now the issue on which Obama's political future will live or die. This morning, he told reporters aboard his campaign plane, "Over the coming weeks we will join [Clinton] in that argument. Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crisis? The answer is 'no.'"
John McCain is already signaling that he intends to make November a referendum on national security. Like it or not, it's a foreign-policy election.
Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, author of In Defense of Globalization and other fine works, sallies forth in today's Financial Times to say that Barack Obama would be a better free trader than Hillary Clinton. He offers five main arguments:
It seems like the sort of argument that Obama -- who is under attack for Goolsbee's alleged "wink and nod" to the Canadians over NAFTA -- would want to see aired after today's Ohio primary.
I'm a pretty reliable critic of the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East, but I can usually see the logic behind them. I have to admit, though, that the decision to send the U.S.S. Cole to the Lebanese coast has stumped me. U.S. officials say their intent is to bolster the embattled Lebanese government, force a long-delayed decision on a new president, and show Syria that America means business. But what is a missile destroyer supposed to actually do in this situation? Shoot at Hezbollah? The only things this boneheaded move will accomplish are to remind the Lebanese of 1983, when U.S. warships ineffectually shelled the Chouf mountains, and embarrass Prime Minister Fouad Seniora's government. The Syrians know this well, and they will use this incident to their advantage.
It's the starkest example I've yet seen of trying to use the U.S. military to solve a political problem. The good news is that Lebanon doesn't matter as much as many people seem to think it does, so any damage done here will be limited.
Last year, FP's "Top 10 Stories You Missed" highlighted an issue that hadn't yet gotten a lot of attention in the press -- the fact that nearly half of the 700 miles of fence being built along the U.S.-Mexico border was actually slated to be "virtual" fence. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have said they prefer virtual to more conventional fencing. But it might be time for both campaigns to go back to the drawing board. After evaluating a virtual fence pilot project, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has thrown cold water on the notion that such fences can be relied upon to secure the border any time soon:
The pilot virtual fence included nine mobile towers, radar, cameras, and vehicles retrofitted with laptops and satellite phones or handheld devices. They were to be linked to a near-real-time, maplike projection of the frontier that agents could use to track targets and direct law enforcement resources. GAO investigators said that [the virtual fence] could not process large amounts of sensor data. The resulting delays made it hard for operators in a Tucson command center 65 miles to the north to lock cameras on targets. Radar systems were also triggered inadvertently by rain and other environmental factors. Cameras had trouble resolving images at five kilometers when they were expected to work at twice that distance...."
The initial phase of the virtual fence -- covering approximately 100 miles near Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas -- was supposed to be completed by the end of 2008. But the GAO now estimates that it will take until the end of 2011 to complete that initial 100 miles of virtual fence. That means it will take until nearly the end of the next president's first term to deploy a virtual fence along a tiny 100-mile stretch of the border. After that, friends, there's just 1,900 miles to go. I figure we can get the whole thing "virtually secured" sometime around the turn of the century.
Listening to the Democrats talk about using science to secure the southern border is like listening to Republicans talk about using technology to solve climate change. Technology, we are assured, will solve all of America's problems without us having to make any real changes. Sadly, in both cases, that's just cover for not having a real policy to address the problem.
In today's WaPo, David Ignatius rightly calls Marc Sageman's new book, Leaderless Jihad, required reading for politicians as they stump on the terrorism threat. Better yet, they can read Sageman's feature in the new issue of FP, "The Next Generation of Terror."
In the piece, Sageman, whose resume, Ignatius writes, would "suit a postmodern John le Carré," profiles the new wave of global jihadists. They are younger than their forebears, self-recruited, lacking in any leadership, globally connected through the Web, and anxious for the action that they believe will make them heroes. They are, in essence, terrorist wannabes, and the absence of any overarching control or physical network makes this new generation all the more dangerous and difficult to detect. But, as Sageman shows, this leaderless movement also contains the keys to its own demise.
It's a fascinating piece that challenges many of today's conventional wisdoms about terrorism and demands a rethink of who poses the greatest threat in the years to come. Sageman will be answering readers' questions in just a few weeks. Just send any questions you have for him to letters@ForeignPolicy.com by Mar. 25 and we'll post his responses here on Mar. 31.
Over at Democracy Arsenal, a blog about foreign policy from a Democratic perspective, Michael Cohen says he thinks all the excitement over the New York Philharmonic's trip to Pyongyang is a bit ridiculous:
Look, I don't mean to sound like a curmudgeon... but I really don't see how this event does anything to impact the terrible existence of the North Korean people. It seems instead to me as if the Philharmonic (well meaning as they certainly are) was played for a patsy.
That's certainly the tenor of comments you'll get from folks like Brian Meyers, the dean of international studies at Dongseo University in Pusan, who believes the trip was a propaganda boon to Kim Jong Il's regime.
I wonder, though, who was really making the claim that the trip would help the North Korean people? The question at hand is whether the Philharmonic's performance could somehow help move the nuclear negotiations along. For some answers on that front, check out FP's interview with Nam Sung-wook, a top "North Koreanologist" at Korea University in Seoul.
During Tuesday evening's debate, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama seemed especially comfortable discussing Russia's heir apparent, Dmitry Medvedev. You could tell from the impish delight with which moderator Tim Russert sprang his surprise question -- "What can you tell me about the man who's going to be Mr. Putin's successor?" -- that a revealing exchange would follow.
First, Sen. Clinton correctly noted that "he's a hand-picked successor... who is obviously being installed by Putin." Then, she weighed in on the side of Russia analysts who view Medvedev as little more than Vladimir Putin's puppet, characterizing the former as having "very little independence" (some experts say the jury's still out on this). She concluded, "I have no doubt, as president, even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin." (Again, an open question.)
Mischievously, Russert then asked, "Who will it be? Do you know his name?" Clinton responded with a couple sorry attempts to pronounce "Medvedev," and finally gave up and said "whatever." [UPDATE: Check out Russia Today's video clip of Clinton's slip-up here.]
Russert then turned to Clinton's rival, asking, "Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?" Obama's answer, essentially, was "not really":
Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him. He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin. Putin has been very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of running the government."
Obama went on to criticize President Bush's Russia policy, complaining, "[W]e did not send a signal to Mr. Putin that, in fact, we were going to be serious about issues like human rights, issues like international cooperation that were critical to us. That is something that we have to change."
If Obama thinks that beating up on the Russians over human rights is going to have a positive impact on the Russian political landscape or elicit more cooperation at this point, he's sorely mistaken. The next U.S. president is going to have to come to grips with a Russia that is saying, "Screw you, West. You messed up our country in the 90s, and we're going to do things our way now." It's a Russia that is deeply paranoid about NATO expansion and U.S. involvement in its traditional sphere of influence in Central Asia, worried about missile-defense installations in Eastern Europe, and increasingly aggrieved about not getting its perceived due in the world. And it's a Russia that is flush with petrorubles and no longer needs handouts from anyone.
The United States needs to convince this Russia to cooperate on a number of key fronts -- Iran's nuclear program, loose nukes, and counterterrorism, to name a few. I'm sorry to say it, but human rights just isn't the top U.S. priority right now. It may not make for good campaign rhetoric, but the smart play is to welcome Medvedev and encourage him to be the liberal reformer he has hinted he might become. Maybe he does turn about to be Putin's mini-me, but there's no need to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A number of Jewish and pro-Israel voters have raised questions about Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. In case you haven't followed this ongoing issue, here's a brief summary of the complaints:
It's not clear how widespread these sentiments are. Obama does have other advisors, such as Daniel Shapiro, that are quelling voters' angst. And Howard Friedman, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the leading presidential candidates are all interested in continuing close ties with
In an odd parallel, rumors are circulating in Russia that Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's designated successor, may be Jewish -- a damaging charge in a country with a long history of anti-Semitism. Nikolai Bondarik, head of the nationalist Russian Party, is happy to take advantage:
It's common knowledge. Medvedev never hid his sympathy towards Judaism… A president ought to be related by blood with his people. Imagine if
Although President Bush's achievements in fighting poverty and disease in Africa have been lauded by popstar and social activist Bob Geldof as well as many Africans during Bush's recent tour of the continent, Brookings senior fellow Homi Kharas offers a "reality check" on U.S. aid to Africa under Bush. Kharas points out:
So while we should celebrate the U.S. contributions to Africa, we should also keep in mind the fact that it is Europe, not the United States, that is leading the international fight against African poverty."
Late Wednesday night, the U.S.S. Lake Erie used its Aegis missile-defense system to shoot down an ailing reconnaissance satellite as it passed over the Pacific. Aegis is a key piece of the larger U.S. missile-defense system, combining extremely sophisticated ship-borne radars with heat-seeking interceptor missiles that can reach targets in low orbits (such as short- to mid-range ballistic missiles). After successfully using Aegis to knock out a target it was ostensibly never designed for, some may ask if this test of the system proves that the American missile-defense system works.
In a word, the answer is no. The mission is a qualified success for Aegis, since satellites and ballistic missiles share many characteristics at certain stages of flight. But taking out a crippled satellite and destroying an attacking ballistic missile are not the same thing. Most importantly, the satellite's trajectory was known in great detail and it could not maneuver under its own power. That's not the case for enemy ballistic missiles, which have unknown trajectories for large portions of their flights (though we can often guess where they're headed). Advanced missiles, moreover, are likely to be able to maneuver themselves midcourse and release decoys to confuse the missile-defense interceptors. Since
Finally, Navy personnel were able to choose the location and timing of the intercept. This allowed them to maximize visibility, to wait until the seas were calm enough for an ideal launch, and to keep as many radars and telescopes as necessary nearby to guide the interceptor and track the launch. The satellite was also several times larger than a ballistic missile would have been and was therefore easier to see.
That said, the fact that the Pentagon was able to reprogram missile-defense hardware for an anti-satellite shot in roughly a month is a geopolitically loaded development.
The scenes on CNN today of Serbian political and religious leaders holding candles at a vigil to protest Kosovo's independence, as well as the rogue protesters setting fire to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, bring to mind Graham Fuller's January/February FP cover story, "A World Without Islam." In the piece, Fuller cautions Islam's critics not to assume that a Middle East dominated by Orthodox Christianity would be any more accepting of Western influence than today's Middle East. With Serbian Christians now fighting to retain what they they view as their religious homeland, maybe he was on to something:
The culture of the Orthodox Church differs sharply from the Western post-Enlightenment ethos, which emphasizes secularism, capitalism, and the primacy of the individual. It still maintains residual fears about the West that parallel in many ways current Muslim insecurities: fears of Western missionary proselytism, a tendency to perceive religion as a key vehicle for the protection and preservation of their own communities and culture, and a suspicion of the “corrupted” and imperial character of the West. Indeed, in an Orthodox Christian Middle East, Moscow would enjoy special influence, even today, as the last major center of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Orthodox world would have remained a key geopolitical arena of East-West rivalry in the Cold War. Samuel Huntington, after all, included the Orthodox Christian world among several civilizations embroiled in a cultural clash with the West.
Whatever you think of Fuller's characterization, it certainly seems noteworthy that the United States and the EU are about to go the mat with Russia for a Muslim country at the expense of a Christian one. If the rift between an increasingly religious Russia and the West continues to grow, can it be long until the op-eds start appearing on "The Orthodox Threat" or "The Failure of Political Orthodoxy"? "Orthofascism" doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?
Smoke billowed from the U.S. Embassy in
The violent demonstration came at the end of a state-sponsored rally held under the banner "Kosovo is
The embassy was already the site of a major demonstration that took place just hours after Kosovo announced its independence on Sunday. And its location made it a very easy target in today’s gathering -- it sits just blocks from both the Parliament building where the protest began and the Serbian Orthodox temple where the protest concluded.
Yet despite its obvious vulnerability, the Serbian officials who called the rally apparently did not plan any police protection for the building. When the fires broke out, not one police officer could be found on the scene. And it took more than an hour and a half before 200 riot police finally made an appearance.
By leaving the embassy unguarded today, Serbian officials reverted to a favorite technique of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic -- call in the crowds and let the mob mentality do the rest. In doing so, they did manage to grab international attention, but only to demonstrate just how little Serbian democracy has progressed.
I'd been wondering if there were anyone willing to mount a semi-coherent defense of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Enter Gordon Chang on Commentary's blog:
An embargo helped kill communism in Europe, and it can also end it in the Caribbean. One day we will establish normal trading relations with Cuba, but that should not be before the people there govern themselves. “The post-Fidel era is clearly at hand, and the Bush administration has done almost nothing to prepare for it,” the New York Times said. Prepare for what? The embargo has been working all along, and it is up to the Cuban dictators to relax their grip, not us.
Fifty more years!
UPDATE: A commenter chez Yglesias fires off this gem:
Maybe the embargo's goal was to force Castro to grow old and ultimately retire after almost five decades in power. In which case: success! Just think how much younger he'd still be if we'd traded with him.
For the first time ever, the United States will use a ship-based missile to take out a satellite. In the next day or two, the world will witness a modified weapons capability that will have significant policy implications. But it's the "how" story behind the scenes that has Russia sweating.
The spy satellite malfunctioned hours after reaching orbit in December 2006. When re-entry became imminent beginning in January of this year, the U.S. Navy got busy computer coding. The Navy can now outfit a standard missile (SM-3) that was designed for intercepting other missiles with a new brain that gives it the ability to target spacecraft. In this instance, the missiles will come from an Aegis cruiser, but ground-based missiles like the ones the United States wants to put in Poland can be larger and have farther range.
Theresa Hitchens, director of the space security program at the Center for Defense Information, noted the comments of General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said in a press conference that it took the Navy three weeks to reconfigure the new targeting software. The implication? Hitchens told me:
If [the United States] wanted to develop that type of software (that could be downloaded into the missiles that would be placed in Poland), we could in a very short period of time. So I understand why the Russians might be pretty nervous about this."
A little software change, in other words, could end up posing a big threat to strategic spacecraft in the future. General Cartwright insisted this new capability will be executed on a "one-time reversible basis." But there's no way the U.S. military would throw away the keys to a new generation of missiles. The Russians would probably prefer that this Pandora's box not be opened, but once it is, all space-faring countries are going to have a new threat to worry about.
She [Condoleezza Rice] can lick her elbow* if she thinks that Khartoum will kneel down to her conditions and accept pressure from her or the international community.
That's a quote from Nafi Ali Nafi, the advisor to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in charge of the Darfur file. "It is not clear why the Sudanese official chose Rice as a target for fierce criticism using this slang language," the Sudan Tribune dryly notes. According to the paper, to tell someone to lick their own elbow in Sudanese is to describe "something that is very unlikely to happen."
I've blogged before about the U.S. State Department's bizarre daily appointments e-mail for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The e-mail often arrives after the events noted therein have already taken place, rendering it all but useless. Today was no different in that regard, except that whoever mailed it out seemed especially eager to inform me of Ms. Rice's morning meeting with defense ministers from Adriatic Charter states.
Today must be an especially an important day for Ms. Rice, so I'll reprint the e-mail below. Here's what flooded my inbox at 2:11 p.m. today:
SECRETARY OF STATE RICE: ON FOREIGN TRAVEL WITH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE NEGROPONTE: MORNING PRESS GAGGLE: 10:15 a.m. with Tom Casey DAILY PRESS BRIEFING:
9:45 a.m. Meeting with the Adriatic Charter (Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia) Defense Ministers.
(CAMERA SPRAY IN TREATY ROOM / EDITORIAL PRESENCE WELCOME / NO Q&A)
Pick up time for all press: 9:15 a.m. from the
Pick up time for all press: 10:10 a.m. from room 2310 / no late escort
**(at approximately 12:00 p.m. with Sean McCormack)**
SECRETARY OF STATE RICE:
ON FOREIGN TRAVEL WITH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE NEGROPONTE:
MORNING PRESS GAGGLE:
10:15 a.m. with Tom Casey
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING:
We don't yet know how Raúl Castro plans to govern Cuba. Will he cling to the old ways? Or now that his brother Fidel is formally stepping down, will he be more bold in pursuing economic and political reform? And what role will the United States play in this process, especially in an election year with Florida and its Cuban population in play?
Chances are high that U.S. politicians will choose the easy route and continue a policy of isolation that has failed for five decades. But hope springs eternal! Perhaps the United States will choose to engage rather than punish. If that happens, U.S. policymakers will need a strategy. FP Editor in Chief Moises Naim had a perceptive column a few years back on the lessons would-be Cuba reformers need to remember in thinking about how to help that country transition from communist dictatorship to a free society. It still rings true today:
Lesson one: Failure is more common than success in the transition to a democratic market economy. Lesson two: The less internationally integrated, more centralized, and more personalized a former communist regime was, the more traumatic and unsuccessful its transition will be. Lesson three: Dismantling a communist state is far easier and faster than building a functional replacement for it. Lesson four: The brutal, criminal ways of a powerful Communist party with a tight grip on public institutions are usually supplanted by the brutal, criminal ways of powerful private business conglomerates with a tight grip on public institutions. Lesson five: Introducing a market economy without a strong and effective state capable of regulating it gives resourceful entrepreneurs more incentive to emulate Al Capone than Bill Gates.
It is therefore safe to assume that if the Castro regime suddenly implodes, Cuba will end up looking more like Albania than the Bahamas.
USAToday's "OnDeadline" blog finds some choice morsels from newly released transcripts of Henry Kissinger's 1973 meeting with Mao:
You know, China is a very poor country," Mao is quoted as saying during the exchange. "We don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands."
The Chinese leader drew laughter when he returned to the proposition a few minutes later. "Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million." he said, adding: "We have too many women ... They give birth to children and our children are too many."
It's not clear whether Mao is at all serious -- he was a pretty crazy dude, after all -- but Kissinger's response is precious:
It is such a novel proposition, we will have to study it.
As Blake pointed out earlier, Barack Obama has taken aim at free trade in the run-up to the upcoming blue-collar-dominated primaries in Ohio and Wisconsin. The attack that began in earnest last night in Obama's Potomac Primary victory speech will continue at noon today in Janesville, Wisconsin, where Obama is promising to deliver a detailed speech on economic policy. The Illinois senator, who is big on hopes and dreams but not so big on details, apparently plans to tell suffering Americans that globalization is to blame for their plight. Here's a sneak preview:
The fallout from the housing crisis that's cost jobs and wiped out savings was... the culmination of decades of decisions that were made or put off without regard to the realities of a global economy and the growing inequality it's produced...
[D]ecades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear...
I also won't stand here and accept an America where we do nothing to help American workers who have lost jobs and opportunities because of these trade agreements...
I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for... American workers."
This is the same guy who keeps promising to heal America's relationship with the world, right? Maybe it's just me, but forcing protectionist agreements down our trading partners' throats doesn't sound like such a good start. Neither does blaming them for America's subprime fiasco, a home-grown crisis fueled by Alan Greenspan and the Fed, which now threatens to wreak havoc on many of the globe's biggest economies. Good luck with that line, Barack.
The White House quietly revealed this week that the United States is cutting $193 million in funding for U.N. peacekeeping operations, mainly in Africa. The cuts will affect ongoing operations in Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and others. This is on top of the $500 million the U.S. already owes the U.N. for peacekeeping. The timing of the announcement could not be worse as Bush prepares for a seven-day tour of the continent beginning on Friday.
But it's not that America is stingy on African defense. It just has its own ideas about how to provide it. Sharon Weinberger writes over at Wired's "Danger Room" that the State Department is currently negotiating a five-year, $1 billion contract with three private security contractors to provide military assistance in Africa. Notice a trend?
The liberal blogosphere is all in a tizzy over John Bolton's endorsement of John McCain, leading some to speculate that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would be tapped to serve as secretary of state in a McCain administration.
I doubt it. Is McCain a neocon? Maybe. Maybe not. Supporting the surge does not a neocon make, friends. It's true that since the late 1990s, McCain has increasingly surrounded himself with foreign policy minds sympathetic to the neocon cause, including Bill Kristol, Mark Salter, Daniel McKivergan, Marshall Wittmann, and Randy Scheunemann. His closeness to Kristol, in particular, has been well documented. But McCain casts a wide net. He also seeks advice from Henry Kissingers and Brent Scowcrofts, and occasionally -- gasp -- Democrats, too. And any way you slice it, McCain and Bolton don't exactly see eye to eye.
Here was McCain's answer to a question posed in 2006 by the New Republic's John Judis on a preemptive strike against Iran:
We haven't taken the military option off the table, but we should make it clear that is the very last option, only if we become convinced that they are about to acquire those weapons to use against Israel.... I think that if they are capable with their repeatedly stated intention, that doesn't mean I would go to war even then. That means we have to exhaust every possible option. Going to the United Nations, working with our European allies. If we were going to impose sanctions, I would wait and see whether those sanctions were effective or not. I did not mean it as a declaration of war the day they acquired weapons."
That doesn't exactly sound like John Bolton to me.
It all started with Barack Obama's "Change we can believe in." Hillary Clinton then picked up the theme with "Change you can count on." Now even John McCain, who's been in Congress for more than a quarter of a century, is promising, "Change is coming." It's clear Americans are looking for a change this election -- or at least the candidates think that's where the voters are. But we're a cynical bunch here at Passport, so we've decided to provide you with a list of things you can be sure won't be too different in 2009. Sorry, folks.
1. America's relationship with China: Next time a candidate promises to get tough with Beijing, you may want to remind them of the trillion or so dollars that we owe them.
2. The partisan divide: Politicians have been promising to bridge the divisions in Washington ever since Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. It's a lot harder than it looks.
3. Dependence on foreign oil: Promising energy independence is the easiest way for a candidate to seem both environmentally responsible and security-conscious. In the real world, unfortunately, it's not happening any time soon.
4. The decline in manufacturing jobs: All the pandering in the world can't reverse the march of history.
5. The flow of illegal drugs: This has been a perennial empty promise since Nixon launched the "War on Drugs" in 1971. Obama has hinted that he might be open to liberalizing marijuana laws, but it seems doubtful that he would devote much political capital to it.
6. Military spending: By one analyst's estimate, the U.S. military budget has reached a staggering $713.1 billion. Yet, for all the talk of fiscal responsibility and soft power, no president will risk appearing soft on defense by proposing even minor budget cuts.
7. The influence of lobbyists: Lobbying reform only faces one minor stumbling block: the U.S. Congress. The much-maligned "special interests" are very creative, and they're here to stay.
8. U.S. support for Israel: Despite the dire warnings that may be clogging up your in box, the United States will remain Israel's staunchest ally.
9. Ethanol subsidies: Despite mounting evidence of the damage corn-based ethanol does to the environment as well as economies great and small, this monumentally dumb subsidy is probably safe as long as candidates need to fight for votes in Iowa. Former subsidy opponents McCain and Clinton have both learned to stop worrying and love biofuels during this election.
10. The primary system: Sure, the early primaries give a handful of white, rural voters disproportionate influence over the election and state caucuses make Tammany Hall look like a golden age of democratic participation, but they're an entrenched part of party politics at this point and it's not wise to mess with them. Just ask the Democrats in Michigan or Florida.
We're in the midst of the most exciting presidential race in decades here in the United States. Pakistan's legislative elections are coming up on Feb. 18. And within the next two months, we'll also see elections in Russia, Spain, and Taiwan. But there's one more upcoming election that you probably haven't heard much about: the presidential race in Cyprus that takes place in two rounds on Feb. 17 and 24. Right now, there's a virtual dead heat between the top three candidates. Check out this poll here. It's in Greek, but the colors on the chart show it all: 30.0 percent to 30.1 percent to 30.5 percent.
You might be asking: Why should you care about a presidential election taking place on a tiny island that's home to fewer than one million people? We'll get there, but first, a little background.
Cyprus has been split into two entities ever since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in response to a military coup that was backed by Athens. The northern part is currently recognized as a state by only Turkey. Everyone else recognizes the southern Greek-speaking part as the official government. As the EU expanded, there were hopes that Cyprus could enter as a united island, but unification talks sponsored by the U.N. were unsuccessful. Cyprus joined the EU, still divided, in May 2004. Current Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, who is running for re-election, is considered by many to be a hardliner when it comes to Greek-Turkish rapprochement. One of his opponents, Communist Dimitris Kristofias, was previously in a ruling coalition with Papadopoulos, but decided to run on his own this time. The other front-runner is Ioannis Kasoulides, a member of the European Parliament and someone who is largely in favor of unification. The winner will be tasked with determining how unification talks move forward.
So, the Cypriot elections mean a lot for the future Europe as a whole, and not just for the island itself. Turkey will never be able to accede to the EU so long as Cyprus is opposed, and Cyprus will continue to oppose it so long as Turkey still recognizes the north as legitimate. Cyprus also plays a major role in how the EU approaches prospective independence for Kosovo. Cyprus is opposed to independence for Kosovo because it's viewed as a vote against U.N. legitimacy. Greek Cypriots are also worried that Kosovar independence would be a rubber stamp for Turkish Cypriots to gain legal recognition. The most powerful states in the EU are in favor of independence for Kosovo. But as long as Cyprus remains opposed, the EU's goal for a common foreign policy remains stymied. The elections in Cyprus may seem like small peanuts compared to other happenings in the world, but there are a lot of people who are watching closely.
There's little question the U.S. military's switch to a counterinsurgency approach and its embrace of former Iraqi insurgents (a.k.a. "Concerned Citizens," "Awakenings," or "Salvation Councils") has helped tamp down the violence in Anbar Province and Baghdad and isolate al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. But not all is gumdrops and lollipops. Back in September, FP contributors Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley warned that while this strategy can work, it brings with it significant risks if the former insurgents aren't properly integrated into the Iraqi state. And increasingly, close observers of Iraq have been raising some important warning signs on this front. Here's Marc Lynch sounding the alarm about recent developments in Anbar:
What with this and the Anbar Salvation Council threatening to take up arms against the elected council and refusing to fly the new Iraqi flag and dismissing the entire Parliament as illegitimate and Awakenings leaders declaring that no Iraqi police are allowed in their territory and clashing with them when they do and blaming Shi'ite militias (and not al-Qaeda) for the wave of attacks against them and fighting over territory and threatening to quit if they aren't paid, it really is hard to see why anybody would think that there might be anything troublesome about the relationship between the Awakenings and the Iraqi "state". Nothing to see here but great big gobs of victory folks, please move along.
There are indeed worrisome trends. Military contractor deaths, for instance, rose 17 percent in 2007. Official U.S. casualities haven't spiked -- yet. According to Iraq Coalition Casualties, a Web site that tracks deaths in Iraq, U.S. troop deaths reached 40 in January, a few ticks up from 23 in December. Sixteen U.S. soldiers and marines have died so far in February, indicating another small increase. If this rate holds, we could hit 4,000 deaths by early March, just in time for the five-year anniversary of the invasion. Deaths among Iraqi security forces and civilians have held roughly constant for the past three months, though February is on pace to be the worst month since August 2007. Stay tuned.
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