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May 8, 2013

25 Steps towards a Smarter U.S. Foreign Policy

April 21, 2013 by

Pictured: Chuck Hagel answers a question during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Service Committee in Washington D.C.

Major events like September 11th, the US invasion of Iraq, and the global financial crisis disrupted the Western-driven globalization process and revitalized a state-centric political model of the world. Although the US chose an economic-centered globalization strategy and relied on international political institutions in the 1990s, national sovereignty became the new norm and the global system shifted from globalist rationale to geopolitical realism. Fear, war, the threat of war, provocation, territory, regional influence and military build-ups weakened international institutions as nation-states countered each other to reassume power.

There is now an unfettered international political instability crisis as a result of stalled engines of globalization all stemming from this neglect of the “political” dimension in the international system. The decline of liberal international foundations did not occur because people no longer desired them, but because of the lack of a strong ideological commitment from the world’s declining superpower and partners. The consequences of rising authoritarian states present crisis conditions for international liberalism and stability. They are also now in direct proportion to the decline of the Western political influence. Thus, as the West weakens, other challengers will present and push their perception of what they desire the global system to become.

Smaller states through international organizations are gaining influence in uniting the world against the economic and political models of Western liberalism. Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and Pakistan are making increasingly threatening advances, from warning and rhetoric, to alliance building. These states claim Western “aggression” is pouring into their regional spheres of influence. Regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the G77, and the Union of South American Nations are moving past the resistance of collective movements toward promoting an alternative global system. Other states like China and Russia are strictly engaging in increased bilateral diplomacy with smaller states to increase their influence, and these countries’ propaganda and public diplomacy initiatives are far more advanced than the US’s ability to counter it.

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Chuck Hagel’s Confirmation Hearing: Neocons Search for Relevance

February 5, 2013 by

President Barack Obama and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Image via WBUR

Chuck Hagel’s going over at the hands of Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee was more than an argument over political and policy differences; it was another spasm in the efforts of neoconservatives to define U.S. security policy in their own image.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican former two-term senator from Nebraska, had once been considered one of the neoconservatives’ own, at least for a while. After joining the Senate in 1997, he quickly became one of Republican Sen. John McCain’s more avid wingmen. He helped run the Arizonan’s 2000 campaign for the party’s presidential nomination. Hagel also voted for the 2002 resolution to authorize U.S. action against Iraq, the precursor to the March 2003 invasion.

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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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Rockets and Pyongyang

December 11, 2012 by

North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket. Image via ABC News

There is a lot of noise at the moment on the Korean Peninsula. One might argue that there always is, but on this occasion, interest is centered on whether the DPRK will test a new disguised ballistic missile, ostensibly to launch a satellite into space sometime this month.  Officially, the test has been pushed back to December 29th. South Korean sources claim that the delay was occasioned by a faulty component in the Unha-3 rocket.

What a busy month this is proving to be. The first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, to be marked on December 17th; the South Korean presidential elections, slated for December 19th; and the Japanese elections on December 16th. Add to this the arrival of China’s new leader Xi Jinping, and we have a considerable fruit salad of variables.

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Time to Reset the Reset in US-Russian Relations

November 12, 2012 by

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at the Esperanza Resort in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico, June 18, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

Regardless of which political party occupies the White House, American presidents are allowed a certain degree of latitude on foreign policy, where initiatives are not as constrained by Congressional oversight in comparison to the nation’s domestic issues. The absence of comprehensive oversight does not provide any Commander-in-Chief a blank check, however. Given the current chill between Moscow and Washington, we expect to see limited progress on the issues that confront both nations during Obama’s second term.

The Obama administration needs to find a way to refocus both nations’ policy interests, but it remains unclear how the United States will be able to achieve this objective. Should Washington create security guarantees with Moscow in order to diminish uncertainty? Or should the missile defense shield continue as planned to protect its European allies? Can common ground be found with NATO’s objectives, on Iran and on Syria? Or is it the responsibility of the Obama administration to plot a new course - sans Russia - without completely alienating the Kremlin from possible cooperation?

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The GOP: Retrograde or Reformist?

November 5, 2012 by

The Republican Party Today and the Romney Campaign

The Republican Party is in a state of disarray and needs to change. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and the extreme positions from which he is now trying to distance himself, provides insights into this situation. It is not surprising that Governor Romney tacked hard to the right during the Republican primary and is now emphasizing a more moderate brand in his latest incarnation of himself.

Nonetheless, I am concerned about a range of public policy issues: the deficit, a disastrously dysfunctional Congress and the rising cost of higher education. I am also worried that there is no overarching strategy that underpins American foreign policy today. Yet, as this election cycle painfully draws to a close, what bothers me the most is the current state of the Republican Party and its dismal prospects for the future.

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Romney’s Proposed Foreign Policy: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

October 9, 2012 by

Stuck in a Cold War, Ozzie and Harriet time warp, Mitt Romney is living in a black and white dream world where America’s foes are easily identifiable and manageable, military solutions are preferred and effective, and America simply cracks a whip and everyone else snaps to attention. This was in clear evidence at yesterday’s VMI speech, in which Romney characterized America as a weak and feckless power under President Obama, and where every enduring high profile conflict in the world has a simple solution and would simply disappear as he waves a magic wand as president.

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A Muscular Policy in Syria Will Fail

October 5, 2012 by

This article is in response to “5 Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now,” by Michael Doran and Max Boot, which appeared in the September 26, 2012 edition of the International Herald Tribune.

The greatest failure of the Obama Doctrine may lie not in its great success but its perceived easy exportability to any other conflict in the Middle East.  The “lead from behind” approach and the targeted bombing campaign that worked so admirably in Libya was clearly on the minds of Doran and Boot as they put together their argument for intervention in Syria. But the Libya model has been stretched to its breaking point in their struggling attempt to fit it into the framework of the Syrian conflict.

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Green-on-Blue Violence forces NATO shift in Afghanistan

September 19, 2012 by

U.S. Army soldiers with 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, 86th Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Iron Gray cordon and search Masamute Bala in Laghman province, Afghanistan, as they provide security on Sept. 25, 2010

The deceptive ways a loss in war is described can be contagious. Retreats are often regarded as odious, but sometimes necessary. These can either have the genius of the British spirit of tactical withdrawal, or a more laughable concept of an honourable peace. When that power tends to be a Goliath, or even a Colossus, explanations for what ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’ constitutes assume the exotic, tinged with madness.

By whatever stretch of the imagination, NATO’s latest change of tack in its deployments, minimising contact between Afghan recruits and its own soldiers suggests a monumental victory for the Taliban forces. It is questionable whether a transition strategy can feasibly work where Afghan policemen and soldiers are kept out of the loop. The mantra from the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan has been solidarity with local forces in the fight against the enemy. That, it would seem, is no more.

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Amidst Confusion, Canada Severs ties with Iran

September 17, 2012 by

Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Jason Ransom

Over a week after Canada suspended formal diplomatic relations with Iran, reaction in Canada remains mixed. While supporters of the Harper government and defenders of Israel have declared it bold and principled, a number of foreign policy analysts have raised questions about the timing, and cause of the sudden rupture.

On Friday September 7th a senior diplomat from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade arrived unannounced at the Iranian embassy in Ottawa carrying two letters. The first informed Iran’s diplomats that they were now considered personae non gratae, and had five days to pack up the embassy and leave the country. The second stated that Canada had already removed its diplomats from Tehran and was closing its embassy, effective immediately.

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Emerging Powers expand ties with Africa

September 17, 2012 by

Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad, part of China’s growing economic presence in Africa. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times via The New York Times

The end of the Cold War resulted in the strategic disengagement of western countries, including the United States, from Africa. They continued their trade, aid and assistance relationship with Africa, but once the threat of communist expansion disappeared, the West interacted with the continent in a different way. This change permitted an opening for several emerging countries to expand their ties with Africa.

As some of these emerging non-African countries became economically strong, they increasingly replaced western influence and engagement in Africa, particularly in certain countries. This new development has fundamentally changed the relationship between the fifty-four countries of Africa and the rest of the world.

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Romney’s Contribution to the Unrest in the Middle East

September 14, 2012 by

Mitt Romney campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo by Marc Nozell

Among the things that are consistent about Mitt Romney are the chameleon-like nature of his political character, his incessant pandering to the small-minded among his political constituency, his frequent flip-flopping on major policy issues throughout the course of his political career, and his ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

None of this would serve him well as president in a country as divided along ideological lines as the United States of America today, but even less so in a world convulsing with political change and yearning for thoughtful leadership.

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Death in Benghazi: The Dark Side of the Citizens’ Revolt in Libya

September 12, 2012 by

A U.S. flag lies among the debris of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. EPA

“Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi.”

– President Obama said of Ambassador Chris Stevens

The American delegation in Benghazi has been left reeling by the deaths of four of its staff, amongst them Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The deaths occurred in an effort to evacuate the consulate, which came under attack from a heavily armed mob.

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Russia’s New ICBM: An Arms Race Cloaked by a Bear’s Diplomacy

September 12, 2012 by

Dmitry Medvedev with Gen. Nikolai Makarov. Image via Kremlin’s Press Office

Russia’s recent announcement that it is building a next-generation Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) is squarely designed to address the perceived threats from the US and NATO to build a missile defense system in Europe. While the justification for this new ICBM exudes platitudes of a defensive posturing, the Russian reality is that a new ICBM is the logical next step in its modernization strategy under President Vladimir Putin.

Moscow’s excuse that it feels threatened by NATOs limited and non-operational missile defense system is just that – an excuse.

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A Proposed Model for Somalia: The Case of Ken Menkhaus

September 10, 2012 by

Hillary Clinton at the Somali conference in London. Image via 10 Downing Street

After the Provisional Constitution establishing a model of governance in Somalia was approved, Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College, published an article titled, Somalia’s 20-year Experiment in Hybrid Governance. The article offers justification for the adoption of what the author termed, the ‘Mediated State’ model of governance in which the central government outsources its core functions to the private sector, nonprofit organizations and local polities.

This model of governance embedded in the PC assumes the existence of legitimate and accountable local political authorities either interested in or obliged to cooperate with the national leaders and institutions. Thus, the leaders of the central government without responsibilities and competencies must gain legitimacy, functions and authority from those local authorities.

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