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March 15, 2013

Foreign Policy

Hamid Karzai: Champion of Alienation

March 14, 2013 by

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul

Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like the world to perceive him otherwise, Karzai finds himself in an untenable position. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw the majority of its remaining troops, the country’s security forces remain woefully unprepared to assume responsibility for the country’s security, corruption remains endemic, and many observers admit that Afghanistan is in reality little better off today than it was when Karzai assumed power in 2004. With his leadership slated to end next year, there is little reason to believe that his successor will do any better in meaningfully addressing Afghanistan’s plethora of problems.

Hamid Karzai has never hesitated to challenge the U.S. publically, whether for a domestic or international audience, but the pace at which he is forcefully challenging the U.S. now is unprecedented. Equating the U.S. with the Taliban as forces working to undermine the government really is over the top, particularly given the tremendous resources the U.S. has provided to Karzai’s government over the past decade – and that he owes his position, as well as any progress that has been made to date – to the U.S. It is a little late to be attempting to change his image as “America’s Man”. We find ourselves wondering why he would be trying to do so in the first place. His legacy is clear to all. No pandering to domestic political interests is going to change that.

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Consequences of Obama’s ‘Asia Pivot’

March 11, 2013 by

President Barack Obama at the White House

In the kaleidoscopic world of power politics in Asia, the United States’ pivot to that region may yield the unintentional consequences of fostering closer strategic ties between the two Asian giants - China and India – which could result in a strategic alliance ostensibly hostile to Western interests in the region.

Analysts will be quick to point out that the ‘all weather friendship’ between the two countries, has hit a natural ceiling due to the strategic competition between the (re)emerging powers. For example, China is deepening its ties with Pakistan militarily (both countries signed a military cooperation agreement in September 2012), provides nuclear support, and has finally taken over management of the port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast. India on the other hand is trying to counter China’s influence in Asia by fostering closer ties with the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially in the field of naval cooperation, which adversely affects China’s position in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Both countries’ increasing energy demands also put the two giants on a collision course.

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Syria: The World’s Next Genocide

February 21, 2013 by

Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo’s most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012. Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

The situation in Syria is in a dire state. Since the uprising began in March, 2011, over 60,000 Syrians have been killed and 600,000 displaced. With a recent petition by 58 UN member states to refer Syria to the ICC and the head of Syria’s opposition being invited to Moscow, Bashar al-Assad’s days in power are numbered.  What would a post-Assad Syria look like? Would it even be peaceful? The sad reality is that the killings have just begun.

Assad bears sole responsibility for starting the unrest, but he does not bear sole responsibility for crimes already committed or for crimes yet to come. We will bear witness to the world’s next genocide against the 2.5 million Alawites and possibly other ethnic minorities once Assad is overthrown.  As the bloodshed continues, Syria is now entrenched along ethic and sectarian lines. Despite being a Sunni majority country, Syria’s economic, political and military leaders hail from the Alawite minority.

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Examining Israel’s Syria Bombing

February 18, 2013 by

An Israeli military jeep near the Israel-Lebanon border. Israeli forces attacked a convoy in Syria on January 29th heightening tensions in the region. Baz Ratner/Reuters via The Boston Globe

Now that the dust has settled—literally and figuratively—from Israel’s Jan. 29 air attack on Syria, the question is, why? According to Tel Aviv, the bombing was aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-craft missiles to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which one former Israeli military intelligence officer said would be “a game-changer.” But there are major problems with that story.

First, it is highly unlikely that Damascus would turn such a system over to Hezbollah, in part because the Russians would almost certainly not have allowed it, and, secondly, because the SA-17 would not be terribly useful to the Lebanese Shiite organization. In fact, we don’t even know if an SA-17 was the target. The Syrians deny it, claiming it was a military research center 15 miles northwest of Damascus that was bombed, killing two and wounding five. The Israelis are refusing to say anything. The story that the anti-aircraft system was the objective comes mainly from unnamed “western officials.”

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Canada’s Mali Conundrum

February 15, 2013 by

A French military convoy crossing Timbuktu during their military campaign against Islamic insurgents. Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images via National Public Radio

Roughly a month after France began its aerial bombardment of Islamic extremists in Mali, Canada’s offering to the western response has remained largely unchanged: one C-17 heavy-lift cargo plane, and $13-million in humanitarian aid announced at an International donors’ conference in Addis Ababa.

The government’s reluctance to pledge more resources has come amidst consternation from foreign policy watchers at home. Historically Canada has had a significant presence in Mali as a major donor. It remains one of the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) focus countries, and is home to significant Canadian mining interests. According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2010 there were 15 Canadian mining and exploration companies in Mali with an estimated $230 million in assets.

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2012 Gallup Poll on Iran Sanctions: Little Incentive, Little Support

February 10, 2013 by

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner announcing new sanctions on Iran from the Treaty Room at the State Department in November 2011

International sanctions are often used as the stick component in a carrot and stick approach to resolve international diplomatic disputes, especially with non-compliant nation states that operate outside the normative behavioral standards. Iran has long flouted and disregarded international norms. In fact, it has come to relish its role as an uncooperative state, which views itself beyond reproach. Iran’s conduct, consequentially, has subjected it to increasing economic and military sanctions.

Sanctions against Iran were initiated under President Carter and have been in place since the late 1970s. Additional sanctions on economic and military assets continued under President Reagan, and saw an increase under President Bush as well as President Obama. All the while, Iran has still refused to cave into demands by the international community to change its malicious behavior or become transparent about it nuclear weapons development effort.

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Turkey’s Foreign Policy: No Longer Neutral, Far From a Leader

January 29, 2013 by

Responding to Turkey’s request for protection against a possible attack from Syria, the NATO Council mobilized six Patriot missile batteries to assist Ankara in defending the country’s south-east and south-central provinces. With materiel and personnel support becoming increasingly operational over the coming days, Turkey is further shifting its ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy in favor of a proactive response to regional issues, which affords Ankara the opportunity to forge a new path in its foreign policy initiatives.

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From Rwanda to Mali: France’s Chequered History in Africa

January 22, 2013 by

Will history look kindly on the French intervention in Mali? Arnaud Roine/EPA

Why the French intervention in Mali? Last week, French daily Le Monde asked this question of André Bourgeot, specialist on Sub-Saharan Africa with France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Bourgeot gave two main reasons, the first of which was that without intervention, Islamist troops that had already conquered the north of the country were likely to take over the international airport at Sévaré, blocking access for any international military intervention, and opening the way to take over the capital, Bamako.

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America’s Goals and Opportunities in Latin America

January 17, 2013 by

President Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Pete Souza/White House

This past December marked the 190th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, the 1823 policy declaration by President James Monroe that essentially made Latin America the exclusive reserve of the United States. And if anyone has any doubts about what lay at the heart of that Doctrine, consider that since 1843 the U.S. has intervened in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Uruguay, Grenada, Bolivia, and Venezuela. In the case of Nicaragua, nine times, and Honduras, eight.

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The Mali Intervention: France, Islamic Fundamentalism and Africa

January 15, 2013 by

French President François Hollande announcing his decision to intervense in Mali. Image via Ministère des Affaires étrangères

The French government has decided to take it upon itself to intervene in the conflict plagued state of Mali to stop the advance of the Islamic Jihadi. On Monday, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, explained that France had received UN Security Council approval to intervene. An aerial campaign on Thursday had commenced at the request of Mali’s government against al-Qa’ida linked rebels marching on Bamako.

The fears from France and her allies is that the al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) poses a grave threat in its efforts to create what would amount to a Taliban styled regime.

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Can John Kerry change State Department Culture?

January 8, 2013 by

As the next Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry will need to focus on changes at the Foggy Bottom headquarters in Washington, DC. At the top of the list is redundancy—overlapping job descriptions—which needs to be streamlined. The constant rotations of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) should be considered, followed by an overhaul of the Employee Evaluation Review (EER) system for promotions, in which peers take part in the preparation and approval process. Above all, the State Department needs to change how we deal with the host countries. To win back friends, we need to be more consistent, and not just be a provider of aid.

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The Syrian Conflict: The Bloody and the New

January 5, 2013 by

Syrian rebels with a captured Army tank. Image via Freedom House

They are termed new developments in the new year, but these are hardly new given the pattern of events in Syria over the last year. Civil wars, when they take place in designated ‘hot spots’ of the globe, attract powers as moths to a flame. The flame raging between Bashir al-Assad and his opponents is such now that there are more than enough vying for influence should his regime fall.

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Mali is a Victim of Inconsistent U.S. Foreign Policy

December 27, 2012 by

Ethnic Tuareg in Northern Mali. Image via Foreign Policy

On December 20, 2012 President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation suspending Mali from benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) program–due to coups the country underwent in 2012. At the same time President Obama approved South Sudan’s eligibility under the program—a country in conflict with its neighbor Sudan.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was established by Congress in May 2000 to create jobs in sub-Saharan Africa—to help reduce poverty—and build trade capacity with the United States. To qualify under the AGOA, countries needed to show improvements in democracy, rule of law, human rights, transparency, and a commitment to work standards that exclude the use of child labor. The AGOA includes over 6,000 items that can be exported to the U.S. duty free and quantity free. The program currently supports over 300,000 jobs (indirectly benefiting 10 million people) in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Washington’s Asia Pivot

December 26, 2012 by

In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world.  

Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.

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US Foreign Policy in Central and South Asia

December 1, 2012 by

U.S. Air Force Capt. Nick Morgans protects a simulated casualty from flying debris as an HH-60 Pave Hawk lands during a mass casualty exercise near Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 2010

From the ice-bound passes of the Hindu Kush to the blazing heat of the Karakum Desert, Central Asia is a sub-continent steeped in illusion. For more than two millennia conquerors have been lured by the mirage that it is a gateway to immense wealth: China to the east, India to the south, Persia to the west, and to the north, the riches of the Caspian basin. Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, British, and Soviets have all come and gone, leaving behind little more than forgotten graveyards and the detritus of war.  Americans and our NATO allies are next.

It is a cliché that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, but a cliché doesn’t mean something is not true, just that it is repeated over and over again until the phrase becomes numbing. It is a tragedy that the US was “numb” to that particular platitude, although we have company. In the past 175 years England has invaded Afghanistan four times.

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