Salvadoran voters go to the polls next Feb. 2 to choose between former guerrilla Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the ruling FMLN and San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the ARENA party as their next president. By all accounts, it will be a rough-and-tumble showdown between two parties with starkly different views for El Salvador's future.
Now, dirty tricks are dirty tricks, but last week President Mauricio Funes, in a bid to boost the electoral prospects of Sánchez Cerén, crossed the line by releasing to the press what he claims are sensitive U.S. Treasury Department documents attempting to damage former President Francisco Flores, who just happens to be Quijano's campaign manager.
Funes alleges the documents "prove" that Flores misappropriated a $10 million donation from the Taiwanese government while in office, a charge Flores vehemently denies.
First of all, it is impossible, as surely the FMLN knows, to prove or disprove the authenticity of the documents and whether they have been doctored. A subject matter expert I forwarded copies of the published documents to said that they had a "cut-and-paste feel" to them. That said, any statement as to their validity would have to come from the U.S. side, and it is unlikely anyone will comment on confidential correspondence between the two governments.
Secondly, and more importantly, releasing such documents to the press -- in the middle of a presidential election no less -- is an egregious abuse of power by Funes and a violation of the protocols governing sensitive law-enforcement cooperation between the United States and El Salvador (or any other country for that matter).
Moreover, the documents in question, alleged to be from the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, are much like FBI background investigations in that they record anything and everything on the matter of financial transactions across borders, whereupon investigators then begin the meticulous work of sorting through the accumulated information to determine whether there is indeed any suspicious activity worth investigating further. In short, the documents prove and disprove nothing.
That a foreign government would feel unencumbered in publicly parading purported confidential U.S.-provided information for political purposes is beyond the pale. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration certainly does not need to address the specifics of any allegations, spurious or not. But it does need to unmistakably call out Funes for his gross abuse of standing procedures that govern such confidential communications between the two countries. And if it is to have an appropriate deterrent effect on other governments that may see the value of using the imprimatur of supposed U.S.-supplied information to discredit political opponents, then the administration ought to leaven its condemnation with a healthy dose of sanctions.
Photo: Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images
With 68 percent of the ballots counted from this past Sunday's presidential election in Honduras, National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández holds an "insurmountable" (as the Associated Press put it) lead over the LIBRE party candidate Xiomara Castro, the wife of disgraced former President Manuel Zelaya. As of now, Hernández leads Castro 34 percent to 29 percent.
Monitoring teams from the Organization of American States and the European Union have endorsed the credibility of the electoral authorities' numbers and have reported that the election was transparent and valid. So far, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, and even leftist Daniel Ortega in next-door Nicaragua have recognized Hernández as the winner.
What needs to happen next is for U.S. President Barack Obama to pick up the phone and congratulate the winner. Why the rush? Two reasons.
First, as expected, Castro's husband, Zelaya, is threatening anarchy in the streets if his wife is not recognized as the winner. Early on Sunday, Castro had intemperately and prematurely declared herself the winner, and now Zelaya, ever the troublemaker, is claiming the election results are fraudulent.
One thing Honduras doesn't need at this point is another political crisis on par with what happened in 2009, when Zelaya was unceremoniously removed from office for his repeated illegal attempts to rewrite the Honduran Constitution in the mode of the late Hugo Chávez. With Zelaya supporters in the United States already moving to frame a narrative of electoral fraud and crisis (see here, here, and here), the specious claim that she is the rightful president of Honduras needs to be strangled in the crib. Of course, an Obama phone call will not stop this campaign, but it will help considerably in validating the integrity of the election and Hernández's standing as the legitimate president-elect.
Secondly, Honduras needs to move forward quickly post-election. If there is anything everyone agreed on heading into Sunday's election, it was that whoever emerged the victor is inheriting an array of deep and seemingly intractable problems without a majority and without a mandate. (Now, the challenges may even include a divided Congress.)
In short, the country is a basket case. Not only is it one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere -- with a poverty rate of some 71 percent among its 8.5 million people -- but gangs and drug traffickers have made it also one of the most violent on Earth, with a homicide rate of some 20 murders per day. Annual growth will likely drop below 3 percent this year, down from 3.3 last year, while public debt amounts to 35 percent of GDP. An IMF deal expired last year, and some new relief is desperately needed. Foreign investment is hampered by high levels of crime and corruption.
In other words, trying to get the country out of its tailspin and moving in the right direction will be a massive undertaking, one the country is incapable of managing on its own. It needs strong neighbors like the United States, Colombia, and Mexico to engage and support it in tamping down violence by standing up professional security forces, while at the same time supporting economic growth policies. A new administration in Honduras committed to those goals provides an opportunity to move quickly and with purpose. For the sake of the Honduran people and regional stability, there is simply no time to wait.
Photo: ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
In between his shuttle diplomacy trips regarding Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the two-block trip to the Organization of American States (OAS) on Nov. 18 to deliver a speech on U.S.-Latin America relations. But anyone hoping that he was going to jump-start the administration's moribund hemispheric policy would have come away disappointed.
In place of articulating an aggressive, forward-looking strategy for the Americas, he offered just more-of-the-same style over substance, another stop on the administration's apology tour, with the main media takeaway being Kerry's apology for the Monroe Doctrine, promulgated in 1823, which he mischaracterized as a U.S. license to intervene in the affairs of other states in the Western Hemisphere.
(For the record, the Monroe Doctrine stated that the United States will not abide outside imperial powers interfering in hemispheric affairs. Whether that is to be apologized for, I suppose, depends on whether you trust the intentions of the United States or those of 19th-century European powers and the 20th-century Soviet Union. If it is none of the above, then that too tells you something.)
In any case, raising the issue of the Monroe Doctrine today is just plain silly, as the number of Latin Americans who still care about it could fill the OAS's ornate Hall of the Americas -- and apparently did. Pandering to this minority cohort in the region is pointless, as distrust of the United States is as embedded in their DNA as is their fear of participating in the 21st-century international economic order.
U.S. policy should instead be focused on making common cause with those millions more Latin Americans who could not care less about wallowing in historical grievances. They are instead eager to embrace the challenges and opportunities of the new global economic order. Yet all Kerry could offer them was little more than bromides about the importance of education and "continu[ing] to open up trade and investment in our children's futures."
Kerry did recognize the progress made on the trade front, including the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements (both George W. Bush's initiatives) and Latin American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but other than citing a recent initiative to provide $98 million in private financing for regional small and medium-size businesses, he offered no administration plan to continue expanding the prosperity generated by trade and energy integration.
It is evident that senior U.S. officials don't consider a region of much importance when they hand the policy keys to second-tier officials to test-drive ideological pet projects. Accordingly, Kerry spent nearly half his speech reciting the "grave threat" of "climate change" and why it must be a priority in hemispheric relations.
Yet extolling the wonders of wind power and biomass to major oil producers like Mexico and Brazil comes off as a bit jarring. These countries and others in the region are understandably more concerned about how cheap, affordable energy can continue to foster their own development and progress. They are not about to divert from that path based on an unproven theory that will necessarily constrain their economic prospects.
It seems that the United States' southern neighbors would be more interested in learning how the dramatic revolution in the U.S. energy sector -- the unlocking of huge new oil and gas reserves through new technologies -- can meet their own energy needs by transforming the international energy market.
I have written repeatedly on Shadow Government that Barack Obama's administration has missed a great opportunity to enhance hemispheric economic ties that will necessarily allow other problems to be addressed more efficiently. The administration has chosen instead to focus more of its effort on trying to convince countries that do not share the U.S. vision for the hemisphere that the United States is really not that bad after all. It ought to be focused on making sure that those that do share the U.S. vision and are making the right choices succeed in delivering the benefits of democracy and open markets to their citizens.
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Those who track security issues in the Western Hemisphere know that in recent years the Drug Enforcement Administration has come under increasing pressure as it has attempted to fulfill its mission. Radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have decried its operations as latter-day manifestations of American "imperialism" and expelled counter-narcotics officers from their countries. Others, such as Guatemala's Otto Perez, at wits end over the drug-fueled carnage in his country, have tried to lead a regional movement to liberalize drug consumption laws in a misguided attempt to quell the violence.
But through it all, the DEA has soldiered on, placing its agents and partners in harm's way to prevent illicit narcotics from reaching our shores. Moreover, what many do not realize is that as U.S. Defense Department and intelligence community assets have been redeployed to meet challenges elsewhere around the globe, DEA personnel today pretty much are the last line of defense to detect threats before they reach the U.S. southern border. (Remember, it was a DEA sting that led to the exposure of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington in 2011.)
What this means is that if a small plane carrying terrorists and/or explosives approaches U.S. airspace or someone tries to smuggle a dirty bomb across our southern border, there is a good chance both will be picked up by DEA surveillance or intel networks in time to thwart any attacks.
I mention this in the context of a recently published op-ed by my colleague Ambassador Roger Noriega in which he reveals that Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a powerful member of both the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees, sent a harshly worded letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart threatening to cut off support for U.S. counter-narcotics operations in Central America because he was dissatisfied with the agency's answers regarding a joint U.S.-Honduran interdiction operation last year in which four presumed innocent bystanders were killed.
Ambassador Noriega recounts the details, but suffice it to say that a DEA surveillance video of the incident disproves testimony of local eyewitnesses (collected by Washington-based activists) that no one did anything to provoke gunfire. Yet, Senator Leahy appears to give more credence to the accounts of those with an ideological axe to grind against U.S. security assistance in the region than he does to federal law enforcement agents who just blocked half a ton of cocaine from reaching the United States.
That four Hondurans who may not have had anything to do with the drugs were killed is tragic, but the blame lies with the traffickers who habitually exploit local populations to provide cover for their criminality. It certainly doesn't belong on those who are taking on these dangerous criminal networks frontally. Nor is it fathomable how cutting off U.S. assistance will help improve conditions in countries caught in the middle of major drug trafficking routes from South to North America.
The Obama administration needs to quietly let Senator Leahy know that he is way off base threatening and haranguing the DEA administrator. DEA agents in the field need to know President Obama has their back -- to prevent a knife being stuck in it from their own side. Moreover, the State Department needs to cable all U.S. Ambassadors in drug transit zones to be more openly supportive of our counter-narcotics partnerships with countries in the region. Too many spend their time seemingly apologizing for these programs and buckling under the slightest challenge to them.
The message is simple: we support these programs because we are taking responsibility for the fact that U.S. demand for recreational drugs fuels mayhem and impunity in their countries. And stamping out this pernicious trade not only makes their streets safer to walk, but rids their governing institutions of the corrupting influence of dirty money. That doesn't appear to be something we should be ashamed of.
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It certainly would be easy to criticize Barack Obama's administration for Brazil's unprecedented cancellation of a state visit by President Dilma Rousseff over reports that the United States spied on her government and Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras. Especially since the administration made its political bones disparaging George W. Bush's foreign policy and promising to "restore" America's image in the world after the turbulent post-9/11 years.
In truth, let it be said, Rousseff's decision has less to do with what the administration did right or wrong and more to do with Brazil's own internal struggle to define what kind of country it wants to be on the world stage. The administration isn't totally faultless (see below), but years of solid political leadership and economic growth have brought Latin America's largest country to the precipice of a momentous decision: Does it want to be seen as simply a leader by acclamation of the developing world, to be seen and heard politely in international forums, but with little ultimate consequence? Or does it aspire for a meaningful seat at the big table, able to project power and exert influence to actually affect the course of international events?
It depends on the day of the week. If it were to be the latter, it seems the appropriate response to the NSA spying allegations would have been: "We are certainly not naive enough to think that governments do not conduct espionage on one another. We want to assure the Brazilian people that we make every attempt to ensure the security of our communications both inside and outside the government." And in doing so, be done with the issue and move on.
Instead, Rousseff opted to be shocked that there was gambling going on in Rick's Café -- that countries spy on one another as a matter of course. Presumably, her intention was to make a statement on behalf of countries lacking the capacity to do the same (which certainly doesn't include Brazil) that such activity is an affront to sovereignty and unacceptable in a flatter world. (Good luck with that.)
Certainly, there is no shortage of modern, forward-thinking Brazilian leaders who are keen to embrace the challenges of globalization and are willing to do the heavy lifting required to make Brazil a consequential global player. Unfortunately, you will not find many at the powerful Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is still dominated by those with a circa 1970s Third World "us-versus-them" mindset. With the United States in particular, they still see relations as a zero-sum game: Whatever is bad for the United States is good for them and vice versa.
With a commitment to freedom and democratic values, extraordinary natural resources, and a huge population, Brazil is a country that the world should welcome as a productive and positive contributor to global stability. But for now, the Brazilian political establishment is still working on that transition, and it will be done on their own terms and at their own pace.
Still, one aspect of this disappointing turn of events is that Rousseff's snub might have been prevented if Obama had spent more time cultivating a closer relationship with her. He has certainly said the right things at the appropriate times, but there has been precious little serious follow-up. Obviously, in Rousseff's calculation, it came down to, "What do I have to lose?" Absent any meaningful cost to her government, she can afford to think small (i.e., domestic politics) in turning down a state visit to Washington.
What is more likely is that if there had actually been any stakes involved for her -- such as ongoing high-level engagement (other than the occasional POTUS salutation), meaningful bilateral economic cooperation, or other initiatives that demonstrate the very positive benefits of a robust bilateral relationship -- then Rousseff could have made a very different calculation. For now, however, the opportunity is lost and those in Brazil suspicious of the United States are ascendant, meaning that U.S.-Brazil relations won't soon recover.
Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
According to expert testimony this summer before two House panels, the State Department's recent report on Iran's activities in the Western Hemisphere, which argues that the country's activities there are "waning," is marred by a lack of inter-agency unanimity. In two hearings (here and here) on the Congressionally mandated report on Iran in the Western Hemisphere both members and expert witnesses hotly contested State's conclusion.
The second hearing, which occurred on Aug. 1 before a joint House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, shed new light on what may be inter-agency disagreement about the content of the State Department report.
Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, testified that the "people who wrote this report did not, in a timely manner, consult with people who have the information. Those people, both within the department and elsewhere are quite upset that they were not properly consulted."
Michael Braun, former Chief of Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration followed by testifying that "the report was written in a vacuum. I don't think that the authors physically met with probably some of the most important players in town. It was poorly written by unseasoned, probably, analysts that contributed and I would sense that there wasn't a strong leadership involved as well."
This is no small matter. The department claims, as it did in an Aug. 1 letter to Senator Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican, that the report "represents the clearest and most current assessment by the intelligence community on Iranian activities, capabilities, and intentions in the hemisphere." Both sides cannot be right.
At issue as well is the recent 500-page report released by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman detailing how Iran has systematically built a clandestine intelligence network throughout the region "designed to sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks." Some members of Congress are upset that the State Department did not factor that tome into its report to Congress.
A senior department official told the Miami Herald that the Nisman report was issued too late to be incorporated into their report but that it would review the report and "reassess" its present position if need be. Some believe that may provide State the opportunity to deflect ongoing Congressional criticism by producing a more serious assessment of Iranian activities in the hemisphere. That remains to be seen.
It is difficult to explain State's ostrich-like reaction to discussing Iranian activities in the hemisphere openly and forthrightly. It may be that they truly believe that Iranian activities in the region are "waning," despite the troubling evidence to the contrary. Or they may simply want to avoid openly discussing issues our neighbors in the region would rather not have to address publicly. Either possibility is simply unsatisfactory.
We are all adults here. Honestly assessing and responding to threats to regional stability and U.S. security constitutes neither alarmism nor waving the bloody shirt. Moreover, it is better to conduct that now, rather than after some preventable incident. Let's hope the State Department undertakes a serious reassessment of its report -- in which all relevant agencies, offices, and departments are allowed to contribute without a preordained conclusion.
Traveling this week in Brazil, Pope Francis delivered an unexpected broadside against the current push in the region by some governments to revise drug consumption laws. Visiting a drug rehabilitation center in Rio de Janeiro, the pontiff said, "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America." Rather, "it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs," which includes promoting greater justice and more education.
He went on to denounce powerful drug-trafficking syndicates as "merchants of death," adding, "The scourge of drug trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires an act of courage from society as a whole."
The pope's words are a devastating blow to the current campaign calling for a fundamental rethinking on how to prosecute the war on drugs in the Americas. Much to the chagrin of Barack Obama's administration, that has become the primary issue many of the United States' neighbors want to discuss in regional forums. And it is not just anti-American populists pushing the matter just to embarrass the United States, but responsible governments like Colombia and Guatemala.
In fact, just as Pope Francis spoke those words in Rio, Organization of American States Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza was traveling in neighboring Uruguay and Paraguay delivering copies of the organization's recent report saying that governments should consider decriminalizing some drug use. The ostensible goal would be to make trafficking less lucrative and hence reduce incentives for drug-related violence.
Certainly no one can blame those frustrated governments whose societies have been most ravaged by the narcotics trade -- the wanton violence, the pervasive corruption, the economic dislocations, and the destroyed lives -- for seeking alternative solutions. But the pope's words are a reminder that there are no easy solutions -- no silver bullet -- to eliminating the criminal element in our collective midst.
The Obama administration's response to the regional effort is to say it is open to dialogue on the issue, which is really just a polite way of saying it has no plans to alter current counternarcotics policies. In Guatemala, Secretary of State John Kerry said, "These challenges simply defy any simple, one-shot Band-Aid [approach].… Drug abuse destroys lives, tears at communities of all of our countries."
The administration is right to hold the line on drug policy. It is not to be hardhearted about the domestic costs that countries have borne fighting the drug scourge. After all, they are paying the price to feed the recreational habits of consumers in wealthier societies such as the United States. But there is no compelling evidence that less restrictive policies would lessen drug-related violence or otherwise improve their respective situations in any way. In fact, what is certain to occur is a spike in local consumption, with all the attendant social ills and economic dislocations that would engender.
Countries must continue the admittedly challenging tasks of developing more-effective law enforcement capabilities, open and transparent court systems, and better prisons, while increasing economic opportunity and building strong social sectors. As Pope Francis alludes, regional governments have no choice but to continue tackling the tough reforms that are essential for their own future political stability, democratic consolidation, the general welfare, and national security.
It may be that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but in affairs of state a little consistency can save governments a lot of heartache. Witness the excruciating contortions of Barack Obama's administration over the last few days in trying to explain why the coup in Egypt was not, in fact, a coup.
As it turns out, the entire matter could have gone a bit more smoothly if the administration had been a bit more circumspect and not reacted in such a ham-handed fashion to the removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. [[LATEST]]
Back then, the Hugo Chávez acolyte provoked a crisis in Honduras by defying the country's National Congress and the courts in trying to force an illegal constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran Constitution, just as Chávez had done to consolidate power and gut separation of powers. In a process the Law Library of the U.S. Congress later found to be constitutional, the courts directed the military to remove him from power. (He was subsequently shipped off to Costa Rica.)
Nevertheless, the Obama administration's response was unabashedly punitive. A top State Department official told Congress, "In my studies of military coups in Latin America, this was a classic military coup." The administration then began cutting off economic assistance to Honduras and further bullying the interim government by denying business and travel visas to Hondurans who supported Zelaya's removal.
As Obama himself explained, "America supports now the restoration of the democratically elected president of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies.... We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not."
Fast-forward to today. It is clear the administration did itself no favors with that response, especially because it is so obvious that what occurred in Egypt was indeed a military coup.
This isn't to criticize the administration's reluctance to cut off U.S. assistance to Egypt, which is otherwise mandated by Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act. That would be counterproductive and reduce U.S. leverage to influence events there in a positive direction.
It is, however, to argue that the administration needs to quickly develop a coherent policy on how to deal with a phenomenon of recent vintage: Governments that are elected democratically but then proceed to govern undemocratically.
Call it the Hugo Chávez doctrine. Like Chávez and like Zelaya, deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy abused his electoral mandate by manipulating democratic institutions to consolidate power and riding roughshod over the rights and voices of the opposition. What compounded the problem, as in Honduras, was the U.S. administration's reluctance to speak out about Morsy's anti-democratic actions and his disregard of opposition views. That is not interfering in the country's internal politics, nor is it choosing sides. It is called standing on principle.
Under the Chávez doctrine, it is wise to remember that governments represent people -- all of them -- not just those sectors of society that happened to vote for a particular set of leaders. In fact, that is the antithesis of choosing sides. Governments come and go, but people stay. U.S. policy needs to be less concerned about how popular the United States is with a particular government than how the country is seen by the people. And, in that regard, a little consistency can be a virtue.
The lesson to be learned from the Egyptian debacle is not that a political force like the Muslim Brotherhood can never get a fair shake when involving itself in electoral politics, but that the Morsy government brought about its own downfall by misusing and abusing the institutions of democracy to further its influence and power -- and that if U.S. policy had been less tolerant of Morsy's abuses, then perhaps a complete breakdown of the constitutional order could have been averted.
Heading a democratic government entails enormous responsibilities; you are no longer the head of a political faction, but are supposed to represent an entire nation. Morsy and his followers failed to appreciate that (Chávez and Zelaya never did either), and they have now paid the price. The military's intervention merely served as a check on an elected government's abuse of power and growing authoritarianism. What's left now is for U.S. policy to not only accept that and move on to support the interim government's return to electoral politics as quickly as is feasible, but to develop more effective strategies that try to avert such crises in the first place.
[Full disclosure: Back in 2009, I helped advise a delegation of private Honduran citizens who came to Washington to defend the constitutionality of President Manuel Zelaya's removal from power.]
ALEXANDER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Three months after Southcom commander Gen. John F. Kelly told the House Armed Services Committee that the United States needs to be "extremely concerned" about Iran's expanding presence in the Western Hemisphere, the State Department has just informed Congress that Iran's regional influence is "waning."
Indeed, even though around the same time Kelly told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that he is constantly approached by his regional counterparts requesting any information he can provide them on Iranian activities in the hemisphere, the State Department is reporting to Congress that it "will work closely with and inform our partners in the hemisphere about malign Iranian activities."
The State Department's assertions come in a two-page unclassified annex to a long-awaited classified report to Congress mandated by the bipartisan Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama late last year. It directs the secretary of state to "conduct an assessment of the threats posed to the United States by Iran's growing presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere and submit to the relevant congressional committees the results of the assessment and a strategy to address Iran's growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere."
Granted, the bulk of the report is classified, but it is not difficult to conclude that its tone is unlikely to diverge much from the unclassified annex -- and that is deeply disturbing.
Especially when just last month an Argentine prosecutor added to the growing paper trail on Iran's nefarious activities in the Americas by releasing a 500-page report detailing how Iran has systematically built a clandestine intelligence network throughout the region "designed to sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks."
The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who investigated the notorious 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, provides compelling evidence of covert Iranian activity in numerous countries, including Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname.
Undoubtedly, the Nisman report will be a focus of attention when the House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on July 9 on the State Department report. Already, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), who sponsored the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act and is chairing the hearing, has expressed his displeasure with the unclassified annex. He said in a statement, "I believe that the Administration has failed to consider the seriousness of Iran's presence here at home."
Ironically, one of the objectives of Duncan's legislation was to foster better interagency cooperation on addressing the Iranian presence in the hemisphere. I attended the CSIS forum with General Kelly and can unequivocally say he gave no impression that his concerns about Iran in the hemisphere were "waning." He quite rightly pointed out how easy it is for anyone wishing to do the United States harm to meld with the criminal networks that can move anything to the United States' borders within days or hours: drugs, people, contraband, anything....
By this time, the penetration of the Western Hemisphere by Iran -- and its proxy, Hezbollah -- should be a subject beyond debate, especially after the assessment by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, following the 2011 Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., "that some Iranian officials -- probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei -- have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."
In this light, there remains no defensible reason for the State Department to continue to soft-pedal the issue, whether the department believes for some reason that it complicates negotiations over Iran's illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons or because it offends the sensitivities of some Latin American governments. Congress is right to demand accountability on the matter. Iran is playing for the highest stakes; it is high time the United States did as well.
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This week marked the one-year anniversary of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's finding refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid questioning on sexual misconduct charges in Sweden. In an irony no doubt lost on the self-styled transparency champion, his Ecuadorean patron, President Rafael Correa, commemorated the occasion by ramming through his latest assault on the Ecuadorean media that criminalizes, among other journalistic activity, the very type of leaks for which Assange is best known.
Correa, whose tenure in power has been characterized as one of "widespread repression of the media, pre-empting private news broadcasts, enacting restrictive legal measures, smearing critics, and filing debilitating defamation lawsuits," has capped it off with a new restrictive communications law that has been widely condemned by NGOs and human rights organizations.
The Inter American Press Association called it "the most serious setback for freedom of the press and of expression in the recent history of Latin America." Human Rights Watch described it as "clear attempts to silence criticism." Even the U.S. State Department was compelled to weigh in with a statement of concern.
This is only the latest example of Correa's bullying and heavy-handed rule, and it comes right before the U.S. Congress and Barack Obama's administration must decide by the end of July whether to renew trade preferences for Ecuador under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), an issue I have written on before.
Now, the extent to which freedom of expression is honored in a country may not be an explicit criterion for renewal of ATPDEA benefits, but it certainly cannot be ignored. Unsurprisingly, however, the Correa government doesn't fare any better when considering the criteria on which renewal is based: counternarcotics cooperation and treatment of U.S. businesses.
As I have written, Ecuador's commitment to counternarcotics cooperation has been lackluster and minimalist. After a poor report on Ecuador in 2012, the State Department's 2013 international narcotics report "strongly encourages Ecuador to place a higher priority on the interdiction of illicit drugs, chemical precursors, eradication of coca and poppy, and destruction of cocaine labs." That is diplospeak for the fact that the Correa government places no priority on those activities.
The treatment of U.S. companies in Ecuador under Correa has hardly been stellar either. Several business and trade associations have already weighed in against or expressed reservations about ATPDEA renewal (summaries can be found here) due to Correa's sketchy commitment to rule of law. Others have brought claims against Ecuador at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
Reviewing the entirety of the record, it is clear that the Correa government has made a mockery of U.S. attempts to build a mutually beneficial relationship that addresses U.S. concerns about narcotics trafficking while seeking to provide opportunities for Ecuadorean exporters in order to undercut the lure of illicit enterprises.
That is too bad. But it is time that the Rafael Correas of the world understand that they cannot have it both ways: You cannot grandly spurn U.S. interests for political effect on the one hand and then expect to receive concessions on the other. It's time these leaders learned there is a cost to their antagonistic behavior. Congress and the administration can start by sending such an unmistakable message and end undeserved trade concessions to Ecuador.
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Trying to track the course of U.S. policy toward Venezuela is enough to give one whiplash. Where a few weeks ago Barack Obama's administration appeared to take a principled stand behind opposition protests asserting that this April's presidential election to elect Hugo Chávez's successor was stolen, today it seems to have tossed the opposition overboard as it seeks to normalize relations with the disputed government of Nicolás Maduro.
Even as opposition leader Henrique Capriles has been traveling to regional capitals seeking support for his campaign for a clean election, someone at the State Department evidently thought it was perfect timing for a smiling, handshaking photo op between Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua at last week's Organization of American States meeting in Guatemala.
Certainly it would be understandable if a U.S.-Venezuelan rapprochement was the product of some identifiable change in that government's behavior -- some nod to the legitimacy of the opposition's complaints, maybe a commitment to stop berating the United States and friendly countries, or perhaps even a public pledge to finally cooperate on counternarcotics policy. Yet none of this has occurred.
Instead, this is what we have seen from the Maduro government in the last few months:
Not exactly what you would call a charm offensive.
Indeed, the only thing we have seen from the Maduro government since its tainted victory is an accelerated offensive to replace the Castro regime as the bully in the Latin American neighborhood, using threats both explicit and implicit to intimidate anyone daring to criticize its anti-democratic actions.
Rewarding bad behavior is no way to treat a bully. Moreover, one does not have to be Bismarck to recognize that indulgence of belligerent actions among states only encourages more aberrant behavior.
Most frustrating is that, unlike Chávez, Maduro's vitriol and bombast are a reflection of his weakness, not his strength. Clearly, he is in over his head, commands no respect at home, has disputed legitimacy, and is manifestly incapable of managing the socioeconomic disaster bequeathed by Chávez. In such a scenario, he desperately needs U.S. recognition of his regime, and it is now being handed to him on a silver platter, with no apparent concessions being demanded of him.
That isn't statesmanship; it's an abdication of it. Maduro and his Cuban minders are avowed enemies of the United States. Throwing them a "lifeline" -- as the Washington Post put it in a blistering editorial -- with some wooly hope that they will see the error of their ways will only succeed in inviting an even worse situation for U.S. interests than the one we are confronting now.
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Many in Washington have been expressing growing alarm over the devastating toll that drug trafficking and gang activity have taken on the countries of Central America, primarily in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Caught between more robust counter-narcotics efforts in Colombia and Mexico that have forced drug-trafficking organizations to expand operations elsewhere while absorbing convicted gang deportees from the U.S., these countries' already weak law enforcement and judicial institutions have simply been overwhelmed.
It is in this context that controversial and risky policy prescriptions such as calls for drug legalization by Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina or El Salvador's "truce" with criminal gangs are being met with less skepticism than they deserve. It is not always true that desperate situations demand desperate actions. In many cases, they only make matters worse.
This week, the Washington Post weighed in with an editorial endorsing El Salvador's gang truce (and Honduras's decision to follow the same path) as "a worthy peace offering" because El Salvador's government claims a drop in the murder rate since the agreement was announced last year.
Yet a closer scrutiny of the El Salvador situation raises more questions than it answers. It is not hard to conclude it represents more of a false promise of peace than any lasting solution to the region's troubles.
That's because, to begin with, the government's pursuit of a truce with the gangs comes not from a position of strength, but of weakness - a fact no doubt understood by the gangs, who are now in a stronger position vis-à-vis the government than they would otherwise be. They now control the agenda and can use the threat of violence (i.e., breaking the "truce") to exact more concessions from the government, whether it is more scarce state resources devoted to their interests (such as social programs designed just for gang members), more so-called "peace zones" where gangs can operate with impunity, and more recognition of gangs as political players in the country's domestic scene.
Indeed, public sentiment in El Salvador continues to be extremely wary of the truce, not least of which is because the gangs have not stopped other criminal activities such as kidnappings and extortion that have wreaked havoc on their society. (There are also questions about the government's accounting of the murder rate.) But also because they see gangs getting financial rewards and political relevancy not by following the rules, but by breaking all of them.
The Obama administration has wisely kept its distance from these "truce" initiatives. That's because veteran policymakers know there are no shortcuts to rooting out criminality; it requires instead committing to the hard slog of building viable law enforcement, judiciary, and penal systems - in short, credible and effective rule of law. (Only then can social programs designed to reintegrate truly repentant gang members into society succeed.)
One also has to recognize the political dynamic at play here. The ruling, former guerrilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power promising citizens a safer and more stable country. This they have not delivered. Heading into presidential elections in March 2014, one doesn't have to be a cynic to believe the FMLN wants the issue of street violence off the table before the campaign season kicks into high gear. Their political calculations have to be an issue in how they are trying to achieve real peace.
One can certainly otherwise understand sincere efforts to try and quell the violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. But political expediency or rolling the dice and hoping for the best are rarely sound bases for public policies.
The Post editorial ends by endorsing the Obama administration's request for a 20 percent increase in funding next year for the Central American Security Initiative, a multi-faceted program supporting law enforcement and judicial reform and social programs to support civil society. That is welcome, but it may not be enough. All must recognize there are no quick fixes to helping our friends deal with problems due in part to U.S. demand for illicit narcotics. It is a battle we and our allies can win, but not in the short-term and not with schemes that will only make matters worse in the long-run.
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The headline is as tendentious as it was predictable. The surprise is that it should appear on a mainstream site like that of ABC News and not some fringe outlet of the fevered left. Indeed, the headline is the holy grail for those legions of activists who have been egging on the recent conviction of former Guatemalan military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide stemming from the country's bloody civil war in the 1980s.
The activists claim that what they have wanted all along is justice for civilians who died in that terrible conflict, but it is clear their ulterior motive has been seeking an indictment of U.S. policy in Central America to resist Soviet- and Cuban-sponsored subversion. Now, in their minds, they have it. Guilty as charged: The United States, under President Ronald Reagan, aided and abetted "genocide."
The charge is without merit. Here's the real story: Ríos Montt came to power in March 1982 after leading a coup against another general, Fernando Lucas García, whose scorched-earth policies against the guerrillas had so alienated Washington that military assistance was cut off in 1979. However, in overthrowing Lucas García, Ríos Montt acknowledged the military's excesses were damaging the counterinsurgency effort.
It was in that context that the Reagan administration reconsidered military assistance to Guatemala, calculating that it would give the administration influence to hold Ríos Montt to his pledges to mitigate the violence. Aid was then restored in January 1983. While it turned out that Ríos Montt was either unwilling or incapable of reining in the military, the point became moot in August 1983, when Ríos Montt himself was overthrown in a coup after only 17 months in power -- and seven months after the Reagan administration began sending aid.
Now, if someone wants to argue that the Reagan administration's policy gamble on Ríos Montt to quell the violence did not pan out, then that's one thing (history books are full of such examples). But to equate it with aiding and abetting "genocide" is beyond the pale. In fact, it is more evidence of an ideological agenda than any noble search for accountability. Worse, it is politicizing crimes against humanity that cheapens the meaning of the term and makes it that much more difficult to prevent and to hold real perpetrators accountable.
On a broader plane, it bears noting that those who have cheered on the prosecution of General Ríos Montt have never mounted any similar movement to hold, for example, Fidel Castro to account for his role in supplying training and weapons to guerrillas who committed their share of atrocities throughout Central America. Why is it only right-wing dictators like Chile's Augusto Pinochet and Ríos Montt who are hounded to their dying days and whose years in power were a mere fraction of Castro's 50-year dictatorship? It seems that those who are determined to achieve justice for victims of dictatorships in the Americas would enhance their credibility immensely if they were to apply a single standard to all perpetrators of crimes against their peoples, regardless of their ideology.
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Last year, in the run-up to what would be Hugo Chávez's final election, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter provided the ultimate cover for the late caudillo when he called the Venezuelan election process "the best in the world." Today, as the country roils in the aftermath of a contested election to elect Chávez's successor, we now know that is not the case.
Who says? Carter's own election-monitoring organization. Last week, an official at the Carter Center told the Washington Post, "The concerns are not about the [voting] machines and whether they counted accurately. The questions are much more about who voted. Was there double voting? Was there impersonation of voters? And was there coerced voting?"
All good questions, ones which anyone should expect to be assessed before making pronouncements about any electoral process as the "best in the world." This is no small matter, since the Carter Center, perhaps more than any other organization outside Venezuela, has repeatedly granted legitimacy to Hugo Chávez's successive reelections, even as the evidence mounted that elections in Venezuela were exceedingly one-sided affairs.
From stacking the electoral council with his loyalists, to his near-monopoly control of the broadcasting media, to his non-transparent spending of Venezuela's record oil profits for political purposes, to intimidating voters with the public exposure of their votes, Chávez used every tactic, above-board and underhanded, to smother opposition candidates.
But with the rabble-rouser-in-chief no longer among us, it appears chavismo, the movement Chávez created, has run its course. Something went seriously awry in April's snap election for Chávez's chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro. Whereas the late president won the October election by eleven percentage points, Maduro barely edged challenger Henrique Capriles, beating him by one percentage point.
What we learned from that election is that Maduro is no Chávez, and not even the obscene collusion between the government, the ruling party, and electoral officials could change that. (My colleague Roger Noriega has exposed the sophisticated chavista vote-getting machine here.) What they failed to account for was that Chávez's link with his base was not transferrable to the wooden Maduro.
What Chávez's successors also underestimated this time around is the adamant refusal of the opposition to accept another rigged election. They have demanded a recount, filed a protest with the Supreme Court, and asked for international solidarity with their cause. The Maduro government and its Cuban handlers have responded with the only thing they have left: violence.
Last week, opposition lawmakers were physically attacked on the floor of the National Assembly after they protested a move to silence them. Before that, Venezuelans were attacked in the street by government-armed thugs as they protested the election result.
Given the ongoing turmoil, the Obama administration has taken a principled stand in not recognizing the outcome until the opposition's grievances are dealt with in some satisfactory way. During his trip to the region this past weekend, President Obama addressed the controversy:
"I think that the entire hemisphere has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition. I think our general view has been that it's up to the people of Venezuela to choose their leaders in legitimate elections. Our approach to the entire hemisphere is not ideological. It's not rooted back in the Cold War. It's based on the notion of our basic principles of human rights and democracy and freedom of press and freedom of assembly. Are those being observed? There are reports that they have not been fully observed post-election. I think our only interest at this point is making sure that the people of Venezuela are able to determine their own destiny free from the kinds of practices that the entire hemisphere generally has moved away from."
Right on the money, Mr. President. Let's hope someone is listening in Georgia.
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A surprising thing happened on the way to the coronation of Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro as the designated heir to chavismo, the movement created by the obstreperous former President Hugo Chávez, who succumbed to cancer last month. Evidently, a good number of the Venezuelan people decided that bread-and-butter issues like inflation, shortages of basic goods, electricity blackouts, and soaring street crime were more important to them than the circuses Chávez regularly supplied.
Challenger Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential election to Chávez last October by some 11 percentage points, narrowly missed an epic upset, losing this time to Chávez's chosen successor by a count of 50.7 to 49.1 percent of the vote.
Capriles has rejected the official tally and demanded a recount of the paper receipts of each Venezuelan vote. "We are not going to recognize the result," he said, "until every vote is counted, one by one." He has also called for peaceful street demonstrations outside the electoral council offices. In welcome developments, both the Obama administration and the Organization of American States have backed the call for an audit of the election results.
Maduro's reaction was predictable, rejecting any recount and accusing Capriles of "coup-mongering." He has no doubt calculated that a recount is more dangerous to the continuation of chavismo than trying to tackle Venezuela's myriad post-Chávez challenges while dogged with questions about his legitimacy. Not only must he address declining socio-economic conditions -- including soaring inflation, a bloated public sector, a crippled private one, electricity blackouts, shortages of basic goods, and one of the highest homicide rates in the world -- he must also deal with a reinvigorated opposition while attempting to manage a movement that is splintering under the weight of corruption and competing interests.
Already, Maduro has been put on notice that he is under scrutiny from his own side. Diosdado Cabello, the powerful head of the National Assembly and long-seen as a Maduro rival within chavismo, said of the election: "These results require deep self-criticism ... Let's turn over every stone to find our faults, but we cannot put the fatherland or the legacy of our commander [Chávez] in danger."
What is clear is that Venezuela's contested election likely presages a period of political turmoil not seen in the country since 2002, when Chávez was briefly ousted from power. But it also presents an extraordinary opportunity for the United States to actively defend its regional interests. No one is advocating that the Obama administration engage in mud-slinging contests with Hugo Chávez wannabes, but neither should we remain silent on matters of principle and U.S. security.
For example, the Iranian presence in Venezuela, including the existence of a number of suspicious industrial facilities, and the prodigious use of Venezuelan territory for drug shipments to the United States and Europe have been tolerated for too long without any effective U.S. response. (Several high-ranking associates of the late President Chávez have been designated as "drug kingpins" by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Maduro's shaky standing today within Venezuela means there is increased leverage for the United States to hold the government accountable for its threats to regional stability. It is not likely Maduro will be able to withstand the pressure coming not only from the opposition and his own coalition, but from the United States as well. That can come in the form of more designations and indictments of Venezuelan officials involved in drug trafficking and violating sanctions against Iran, but also repeated public calls to disassociate his government from these criminal activities.
The administration must also continue to stand behind the Venezuelan opposition on matters of principle. Voters deserve a clear accounting of what transpired last Sunday. The future of their country hangs in the balance.
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True to form, the Venezuelan government and its Cuban minders have spared no effort or expense to ensure the outcome of Sunday's snap election to elect the late Hugo Chávez's chosen successor. Challenger Henrique Capriles has been game (and his singular effort to revive the fortunes of the Venezuelan opposition commendable), but in the end his lot has been to be cast as a mere prop in Venezuela's version of "casino democracy," where the house always wins.
Ironically, Capriles should privately be relieved that Chávez's appointed successor, the dour and robotic Nicolas Maduro, and not he, will inherit the ticking economic time bomb that Chávez has bequeathed his country. Most sober observers of the Venezuelan scene give the country's economy 12 months at most before the wheels start coming off. As I have written before, some may remember Chávez for his embrace of the country's marginalized, but all Venezuelans are now poised to reap the whirlwind of the balance of his legacy: soaring inflation, a bloated public sector, a crippled private one, electricity blackouts, shortages of basic goods, and one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Far from demonstrating any appreciation for the gravity of the economic situation, Maduro has indicated he only intends to dole out more of the same. In fact, even as the campaign has been taking place, the government has been pushing a new law in the rubber-stamp National Assembly that further undercuts the private sector and concentrates even more economic power in the state.
The so-called Law against Monopolies and Other Similar Practices is a capricious measure that empowers the government to confiscate any business that it deems not acting in the public interest. Yet the law would discard traditional metrics for the determination of monopolistic practices and instead leave it up to a politically appointed board to decide if a company has a "decisive domain" over the setting of prices or other market conditions. (State-owned enterprises would be exempt under the law, further tilting the playing field against the private sector.)
In other words, any successful company runs the risk of confiscation at any time by crossing the government's arbitrary line of being "too successful." And with the judicial sector also controlled by the government, private companies are left with no outlet to appeal adverse decisions.
The fall-out if such a law was to be implemented is not difficult to imagine: a further retraction of private sector activity, less production, and less opportunity for working Venezuelans. Just what the Venezuelan economy does not need at this critical juncture.
This is a far cry from the image of Nicolas Maduro that U.S. audiences were presented by the news media after he was named by Chávez as his successor. We were told the former bus driver was "pragmatic" and "likable." (Call it the Yuri Andropov Syndrome, after the soft-pedaling to the American public of the former KGB-head's supposed fondness for "Western jazz and scotch.")
Well, during this recent campaign, when the likable, moderate Maduro was not expelling additional U.S. personnel from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, accusing the United States of poisoning Hugo Chávez, or implicating former U.S. officials in attempts to assassinate either him or Capriles (depending on the day), he was making homophobic slurs about his opponent and characterizing the opposition as fascist coup-mongerers. And, at the same, planning further actions to destroy what is left of the private sector in Venezuela.
There will be those who will dismiss all this as just so much campaign bluster. They do so at risk to U.S. national interests. There is no evidence that Maduro is anything other than a deadly serious ideologue beholden to Cuba and to further pushing Hugo Chávez's destructive agenda. Consider him Chávez without the charm -- and come hell or high water he is about to be with us for another six years beginning this Sunday.
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As a former U.S. official with substantial experience in Venezuela, I was not surprised, but still outraged to hear the temporary new leader of that country, Nicolas Maduro, accuse the United States of murdering his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. I feel obliged to set the record straight, not because I care about what Maduro thinks, but because if not challenged, Maduro's latest falsehood will become another urban legend circulating the globe on the Internet.
Predictably, in two dozen interviews I gave to international press in the 48 hours following Chávez's death, two journalists, one from the BBC and one from the U.S. Spanish-language CNN channel, questioned me about Maduro's accusation, implying it was credible that the United States had "inoculated Chávez with the cancer" that killed him. I replied, of course, that the United States had nothing to do with his death.
Despite the hostility that characterized the U.S. relationship with Chávez, it is not only false to accuse the United States of killing Chávez, but the truth is that we likely prevented his assassination on more than one occasion. Since, as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs in the George W. Bush administration, I played a part in at least one of those instances, I feel compelled to defend our country once again from the calumnies of our foes and their acolytes by relating just one such incident. While everything herein is the best of my recollection, contemporary State Department records will substantiate the facts.
On a routine day in 2002, my secretary called me to the phone: "Ambassador Shapiro needs to talk to you on ‘secure,'" the encrypted U.S. government telephone network by which sensitive conversations are conducted. Charles Shapiro was our ambassador to Venezuela, and receiving calls from him and other ambassadors on "secure" was also routine. Weeks before, Charles and I had communicated often via secure phone for days as we attempted to manage the U.S. response to Chávez's removal from the presidency by his own people, and his subsequent return.
"Have you seen the report on the latest conspiracy to kill Chávez?," Shapiro asked.
I replied: "Yes, I did. Is this one real"?
This article is cross-posted from Foreign Policy's main site. Read the rest of the article here.
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Another BRICS summit brings another round of angst in the West over the new world the rising powers seek to build without us. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is indeed breathtaking. Each is subcontinental in scope; together they represent nearly every region; their combined GDPs may surpass those of the G7 within two decades; as a group they have contributed more to global growth over the past five years than the West; and between them they boast nearly half the world's population.
Moreover, the BRICS possess complementary advantages: China is a manufacturing superpower; India is the world's largest democracy, with a deeper well of human capital than any other; Russia is a potential "energy superpower," according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Brazil dominates a region lacking any great power competitor; and South Africa represents a continent that has grown faster than Asia over the past decade. An alliance among these behemoths could indeed change history in ways that diminish the West.
Except that nearly all of the BRICS covet a special relationship with the United States, have development aspirations that can only be achieved with Western technology and investment, have security concerns they do not want to put at risk through confrontation with Washington, and quietly understand that strategic and economic rivalries within their grouping may be more salient than the ties that bind them together.
There will be several ghosts in the room at the BRICS summit: America, which India, China, and Russia have identified as more important to their interests than other rising powers; Indonesia, whose demographic and economic weight gives it a stronger claim to membership than South Africa; and Mexico, whose dynamic economy is more integrated with the world than Brazil's and wonders who appointed a Portuguese-speaking nation to represent Latin America.
Ironically, it may be the cleavages within the BRICS club that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, between China and India on security, and between China and Russia on status. These issues highlight the continuing difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership. Such leadership requires followers, and every BRIC country is reluctant to become one.
As my GMF colleague Dan Kliman puts it: "Talk of a new international order anchored by the BRICS is just that - talk. The two largest emerging powers in BRICS - Brazil and India - desire modifications to the current order; they do not seek to scrap it. Without geopolitical or ideological mortar, the BRICS summit remains less than the sum of its parts."
The BRICS countries may posture, but their strategic interests by and large lie in working more closely with the West rather than forming an alternative block that seeks to overthrow the existing world order. Indeed, the largest of the BRICS tried just such a strategy in another era -- and failed. India's experiment with non-alignment during the Cold War was a recipe for keeping Indians poor and shutting their country out of premier global clubs like the U.N. Security Council. We know how Moscow's quest to mount a Soviet ideological and material challenge to the West ended. And China long ago abandoned its Maoist zeal for world revolution. The country's biggest trading partners today are the European Union and the United States, and its leaders understand that the nature of China's relationship with the United States will be the main external determinant of China's ability to become a truly global power.
Power is diffusing across the international system, and the BRICS grouping is a reflection of that. But we should not let the occasional rising-powers summit lead us to lose sight of the main reality of a more multipolar world -- that in the race for influence in the 21st century, the United States remains in pole position.
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We have a pope, and the announcement came on the afternoon when, bored after a couple of days of no results, the same shade of smoke four whole times in a row, and dwindling leaks, the media turned to the line "divided cardinals can't decide who will lead church (which is plagued by scandal)." The choice was not the woman E.J. Dionne hoped for to heal the church (fraught with scandal), nor the African whom Dennis Rodman journeyed to Rome expecting to meet after his wildly successful basketball diplomacy in North Korea (the church whose new leader Rodman sought to meet has faced a long series of scandals). Rodman, however, was closer than most to predicting correctly the outcome of the conclave (held at a moment of crisis over scandals).
The leader of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, is known informally as "the black pope" because of the black vestments worn by that order, and the title is sometimes used ironically (until yesterday, anyway) because of the ups and downs of the relationship over the centuries between the pope and the Jesuits (who were once suppressed by a church now beset with scandal). But the new pope is the first Jesuit to assume the throne of Peter (and he must now deal with a range of scandals). One wonders if the Lord really has a sense of humor, telling the Jesuits, "You guys are so smart? Let's see how one of you likes being in charge of 1.2 billion mortals. And a bunch of scandals."
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina walked into the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI and, apparently to his own surprise, was not far from walking out as the pope elected by those who sought to block Joseph Ratzinger's papacy. So while Cardinal Bergoglio was not among the front-runners this time around as handicapped by Vaticanistas, his selection was not entirely out of left field (springtime brings these mixed sports metaphors, amidst the scandals).
Pope Francis walked out on the balcony yesterday after a relatively quick conclave, which was thankfully months shorter than the 2000 election court challenges in the U.S. Although not well known by the international media, he comes with a great reputation. He is thought to be thoroughly orthodox in his theology, which may disappoint some of his brother Jesuits and plenty of others who were hoping for a brand of modernizing, progressive reform comparable to what Americans are experiencing under President Obama (and progressivism is thought by some to be the only remedy for the many scandals afflicting the church).
But there is much in a name (even in a church struggling with scandal). Those of us whose primary cultural references include the Animal House film genre (and, in my case, fighter squadrons -- much of a muchness) can forget that renaming has a long and very serious scriptural history. Abram is renamed Abraham, Simon is renamed Peter, and there are many other such cases.
While the name Francis may in part allude to that great Jesuit global evangelizer St. Francis Xavier, it seems clear that the new pope has taken his name from St. Francis of Assisi. That is a wonderful choice in many ways. No pope has taken that name before, suggesting a willingness to do something fresh while remaining firmly within tradition by asking for the protection of a great figure in church history (that history is now being challenged by scandal). St. Francis famously renounced his family wealth in favor of a life of genuine poverty and love for the poor, and the new pope has "walked that walk" in Argentina. St. Francis is also known (and idealized in ways that might have horrified him) for his love of wildlife and what we now call nature. His statue adorns many gardens of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His qualities give him a universal appeal (important for a church fighting to overcome scandal). The choice of name responds, intentionally or not, to the universal interest in this election, in and out of the church (about which Maureen Down has open questions based on scandals).
Moreover, although not taken by a pope before, the name Francis has the hallmark of a certain kind of continuity. St. Benedict began the western monastic movement at the end of the Roman empire, a time of chaos, as Europe entered the middle ages (sometimes ineptly dubbed the "dark ages"). G.K. Chesterton, in his biography of St. Francis, calls this period one of necessary penance, from which continued reform (and the rise of Europe) would emerge. The markers of that emergence were the foundation of two new church orders, that of St. Dominic and that of St. Francis. The transition from Benedict to Francis took several centuries the first time around. Perhaps this pope is seeking to speed to process this time, or more likely, to call attention to the long tides of temporal events in which church history plays out.
We can expect that, like his predecessor, this pope will conduct a diplomacy that is, at root, more evangelical than political. While his perspective as a non-European will be different than previous popes, he has spent much time in Rome and comes from Italian heritage (which, along with choosing a name associated with Assisi, will ease his way into the chair -- the Curia at the Vatican has all the bureaucratic features of DOD or the State Department, and outsiders have much work to do gaining respect and loyalty).
This pope is not afraid to take on the powers of the planet. He has challenged the authoritarian tendencies of the Kirchners, but he will likely not go picking unnecessary fights. He is comfortable with democracy (long-ago reports of ties to the Argentinean junta were evidently dispelled by testimony of the Amnesty International director there -- we certainly hope there is not yet another scandal brewing, but this time it looks safe). He will have to spend much time on his flock in places where Christians are routinely persecuted.
The scandals brought upon the church by the malice and error of too many of its all-too human members are real. Pope Francis must indeed deal forcefully with them. He seems to be a vicar of Christ who will do so, at the same time moving to put the historical Christian message -- the gospel's scandal of the cross -- at the forefront of his papacy. While the right administrative and, where needed, punitive measures will be essential, that central message will be the most Franciscan, most effective priority that Pope Francis could adopt. And he will.
His election has brought joy to Catholics, and many others, from around a world that St. Francis, living before the European age of exploration, had little familiarity with. A few weeks ago in this space, I suggested that Catholics pray that we not get the pope we deserve. From the initial indications, it looks like that prayer may have been answered.
Residents of the Falklands Islands in the South Atlantic went to the polls over the past two days to deliver a resounding rejection of Argentina's bullying campaign to assert a historically dubious claim to sovereignty over the archipelago. With turnout over 90 percent, some 99.8 percent of islanders voted in favor of remaining an overseas territory of Britain.
The referendum comes thirty years after Argentina's disastrous military invasion of the islands was repelled by British forces at the cost of some 1,000 lives. Reasonable people can be forgiven for thinking that skirmish should have ended for the foreseeable future any dispute regarding sovereignty over the islands.
But reasonableness is not a quality in abundant supply among today's Latin American populists. It seems the government of Cristina Kirchner has dusted off the Falklands chestnut just as the country's economic fortunes -- and her popularity ratings -- are going even further south than the Falklands.
After riding the commodities boom for most of the past decade, the global recession has depressed demand and Argentina is now feeling the pain of President Kirchner's brand of populist economic policies. Economic growth has dropped from 9 percent to 2.2 percent, inflation has increased to approximately 24 percent, and unemployment stands at 7.6 percent. So, what is a good populist leader to do? Try to distract the populace's attention by resurrecting historical grievances. But speechifying from the balcony for domestic consumption is one thing. As the Heritage Foundation points out in a recent paper, the Kirchner government is also waging an intimidation campaign against the islanders, with its navy interfering in shipping and fishing activities, pressuring other countries to deny entry to Falkland-flagged ships, and threatening a vital air supply link to Chile.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration has had no comment on this kind of aberrant behavior, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the referendum, and adopted no position on either side's sovereignty claims, simply saying the two should "negotiate."
The problem with the administration's position is that it legitimizes and elevates Argentina's spurious claim to the same moral plane as that of the Great Britain's -- as if there some sort of equivalence -- despite the fact that the latter's position has more than two hundred years of history behind it and the overwhelming wishes of the very same people whose lives will be most affected by any change in the status quo.
And ... to what purpose? Merely to provide succor to the expedient political interests of a government, Argentina's, that is no friend of the United States? And, moreover, at the expense of the interests of our closest and most trusted ally in the world?
U.S. policy on the issue of the Falklands should be that there is no issue. This is not Kashmir. We should be supporting our real friends in defending their interests whenever and wherever needed -- just as President Reagan did when he provided key U.S. logistical support to Great Britain during the 1982 war. It is regrettable that today we opt instead to enable the bad behavior of Latin American populist governments with whom we have no common interests or goals.
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Floating policy trial balloons is longstanding Washington custom. Not so common is when that balloon gets blasted out of the sky by the "senior official" leaker's own administration. That's what happened last week when the Boston Globe reported that, "High-level U.S. diplomats have concluded that Cuba should no longer be designated a state sponsor of terrorism."
Yet the ink was barely dry on that report before both the White House and State Department utterly repudiated (here and here) any notion that Cuba would soon be de-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
As I have written in this space before, de-listing Cuba has been a long-sought goal of a die-hard cadre of critics of the United States' Cuba policy. Why? Well, it seems that the Castro regime, which was born in terrorist violence, aided and abetted it across four continents over three decades, and whose training camps produced such international luminaries as Carlos the Jackal, is upset that it continues to be listed as a state-sponsor of terrorism. And, what's more, Washington policymakers ought to be vexed by that, because it is an "obstacle" to normalized relations.
It turns out that the Globe report was simple mischief-making by some apparently inconsequential U.S. official, clearly meant to provide succor to the de-listing campaign. As was noted deeper in the story, "U.S. officials emphasized that there has not been a formal assessment concluding that Cuba should be removed from the terrorism list and said serious obstacles remain to a better relationship, especially the imprisonment of [development worker Alan] Gross."
Still, since the subject has been raised, it's worthwhile to examine just what it has taken for other countries to be removed from the state sponsors list. In 2007, Libya was de-listed after Muammar al-Qaddafi terminated his WMD program and renounced terrorism by severing ties with radical groups, closing training camps, and extraditing terrorism suspects. He also accepted responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing and paid compensation to the victims.
In 2008, in a controversial decision, the Bush administration de-listed North Korea for progress that was being made on ending the country's nuclear program.
Clearly, removal from the list usually follows some pro-active, game-changing actions by a country. What pro-active measures has Cuba ever adopted? The answer is none. Just being too broke to support terrorism anymore hardly merits any action on the U.S. part.
Moreover, according to the law, before de-listing, an administration must not only certify to Congress that a country has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period, but that it has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
In Cuba's case, even if relevant U.S. agencies can conclude that the Castro regime has not provided material support for a terrorist act in the last six months -- that is, apart from its terrorizing of its own people, which continues apace -- where is the regime's public renouncement of its past support for international terrorism and assurance that it will not support any acts in the future?
Is even that too much to demand? Of course, it is. The Castro regime will not issue any such statement because it doesn't believe it has done anything wrong since 1959. They maintain that they are the victims of U.S. policy and are deserving of all the concessions, without any quid pro quo. The regime can no more renounce terrorism than renounce their totalitarian state -- and that is why they belong on the terrorism list until they give the U.S. government a real reason to be taken off.
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A remarkable thing almost happened in Washington this past week. The Organization of American States nearly became relevant to the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela following Hugo Chávez's missed inauguration. Alas, it was not to be -- as apparently the only thing that stirs Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, a Chilean socialist, to action is when fellow leftists are removed from power for their abuses (see Honduras, 2007).
Indeed, making matters worse, the diplomat who tried to rouse the organization on Venezuela wound up getting fired by his government for his temerity.
Panamanian representative to the OAS Guillermo Cochez took to the floor last week to criticize Insulza's supine reaction to recent events in Venezuela, including the decision of the Chávez-packed Supreme Court to overrule their constitution and delay the president's swearing-in for his new term in office, since no one has seen or heard from Chávez in more than a month. (He is believed to be in Cuba, convalescing from a reported fourth cancer surgery. Nominally in charge, but resting on no constitutional basis, is Chávez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro.)
Citing the lack of transparency on Chávez's health and lack of independent institutions in the country, Cochez called Venezuela "a sick democracy." He said that if the OAS was not going to be concerned about whether events there were in compliance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter (to which Venezuela is a signatory), then the organization ought to be shut down.
Predictably, the Venezuelan representative responded with vitriol, calling Cochez's remarks "an aggression" and insulting him as mentally unstable and "a jerk."
The session was quickly adjourned, as no one witnessing wanted to be further splattered by typical chavista mud-slinging, although not before the Canadian envoy suggested sending an OAS delegation to Venezuela to evaluate the situation.
The U.S. response to the spectacle was hardly inspiring. The U.S. representative said that the U.S. "will not interpret the constitution of Venezuela," which is up to "the people of Venezuela." That certainly stands in stark contrast to the Honduran presidential crisis of 2007, where the U.S. did precisely just that. And, frankly, how the Venezuelan opposition is supposed to make its voice heard when all governing institutions have been gutted and packed with chavistas is not clear. In any case, no one is expecting the U.S. to be the lone voice of criticism, but the alternative requires some diplomatic heavy-lifting in getting other countries to speak out. But, to date, precious little is evident.
Unfortunately, for his troubles in trying to do the right thing, Ambassador Cochez was summarily dismissed from his position and his comments were disavowed. According to a statement from the Panamanian government (whose president once touted himself as the "anti-Chávez), "Panama reiterates that it will continue to respect the internal political processes of states, and, in the case of Venezuela, we are praying for the quick recovery of President Hugo Chávez."
It is doubly unfortunate that the OAS secretary general position is not open until 2015, because Ambassador Cochez exhibits just the qualities you would want in an OAS secretary general.
As for the current occupier of the position, his tenure can be pretty much summed up in a separate interview with the Miami Herald. Asked about the ludicrous situation in which another regional organization, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) -- which purposefully excludes the U.S. and Canada and lists fortifying democracy as a goal -- would be soon turning over its leadership to Cuban dictator Raul Castro, Insulza responded, "The fact that the president of Chile, who is by no means precisely a leftist, hands over CELAC to Raúl Castro shows a new climate of tolerance and understanding in Latin America."
There you have it: an inability to make a distinction between a democratically elected, right-of-center businessman and a left-wing military dictator who shot his way into power fifty years ago and continues to rule through the barrel of a gun. Yes, Mr. Insulza, it does show how far your Latin America has come. Not very.
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Do we really need another lesson on the folly of attempting to appease dictators?
Apparently, Foreign Affairs thinks so -- albeit inadvertently. They recently posted a piece, "Our Man in Havana," about the heroic efforts of some Obama administration officials to give the Castro regime everything it wanted for the release of jailed development worker Alan Gross. Specifically, this meant gutting the official U.S. democracy program for Cuba that Gross was operating under. In the end, however, they just could not overcome the intransigence of -- not the Castro regime -- but the "Cuban-American Lobby" in Congress.
Indeed, not only did they not wind up with the long-suffering Gross's freedom, but, to boot, former Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela was forced to sit through a humiliating meeting with Cuban officials ranting about all the dictatorship's grievances against the United States. As the article puts it, "The Cubans were far less flexible than the Americans expected." (One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.)
The central figure in this drama of high diplomacy is one Fulton Armstrong, a controversial former CIA analyst who began a second career as a staffer for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). (Today, he is affiliated with American University.) Armstrong was such an unabashed promoter of U.S.-Cuba normalization in the inter-agency process that he was shipped off to Europe during the Bush 43 administration, although not before playing a role in trying to scuttle John Bolton's nomination to serve as U.S. representative to the United Nations.
Apparently, Armstrong was enlisted by the administration to serve as a go-between with the Castro regime, no doubt due to the fact that he was a "friendly face" in the eyes of the Cubans. His mission: convince the Castro regime that the Obama administration agrees with them that USAID's Cuba democracy programs "are stupid" and that, in the words of Armstrong, "we're cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can't kill them."
The article also includes other Armstrong-sourced inanities meant to further discredit the USAID program: that he was told by a "State Department official" that Gross's mission was "classified" and by another that Gross "likely worked for the Central Intelligence Agency." Apparently, Armstrong needs new sources, because such assertions are nonsense and known to be by anyone remotely associated with the program (as I was during my time with the Bush administration.)
The ever-resourceful, man-on-a-mission Armstrong even enlisted his former boss, Senator Kerry, in the appeasement effort, arranging for him to meet with Cuban officials in New York. The article reports, "there was no quid pro quo, but the meeting seemed to reassure the Cubans that the democracy programs would change, and the Cubans expressed confidence that Gross would receive a humanitarian release shortly after his trial." (That was in March 2011.)
Enter the villain: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the nefarious "Cuban American Lobby." He supposedly called Denis McDonough, Obama's deputy national security adviser, to say basically hands off the Cuba program. According to a former government official, "McDonough was boxed in." Now, there's a tough call: side either with a lawless dictatorship or with an influential U.S. senator from your own party.
In the end, the effort to appease the Castro regime ended predictably: no freedom for Alan Gross and only utter contempt from Castro regime lackeys. Indeed, is there any mystery why Gross continues to languish in a Cuban jail cell when, according to Armstrong, unnamed administration officials signal to the Cubans that they think the democracy program is "stupid" as well? Moreover, offering to gut a democracy program because a dictatorship opposes it sends a terrible message to authoritarian regimes around the globe.
As I have written several times before, the best approach to securing Alan Gross's freedom is not giving in to the demands of an illegitimate regime, but by denying it things it wants and needs, such as U.S. tourists spending hard currency under currently licensed travel programs. Let's hope this Fulton Armstrong-led fiasco puts an end to any more appeasement attempts and the issue is placed in the hands of those with a more sober understanding of the nature of the Castro regime
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By Ambassador Roger F. Noriega and José R. Cárdenas
Last week, ahead of President Obama's meeting with the Business Roundtable, the Roundtable and the U.S. Council for International Business released a report saying that, "the success of American companies, and of the U.S. workers they employ, increasingly hinges on their success as globally engaged companies."
Indeed, there is some optimism in Washington that President Obama, free from political constraints in his second term (i.e., Big Labor opposition to free trade), can implement a robust international trade agenda as a sure-fire way to create new jobs at home, markets for U.S. goods and services, and investment opportunities abroad. Much of that talk is focused on action regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement with Europe.
We have just co-authored a paper for the American Enterprise Institute -- "An action plan for US policy in the Americas" -- the essence of which can be distilled down to the following: Mr. President, stop ignoring Latin America!
If the President's objective is to use trade to help jump-start the U.S. economy and create more jobs here at home, then Latin America has to be part of the equation. That's because when you look beyond the rogue behavior of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and his populist ilk, clearly the Western Hemisphere is home to some of the most dynamic markets in the world.
Since 2003, an estimated 73 million Latin Americans have risen out of poverty. Moreover, between then and 2010, the average Latin American income increased by more than 30 percent, meaning that today nearly one-third of the region's nearly 570 million population is considered middle class. And in just the next five years, regional economies are projected to expand by one-third.
Given the Americas' close historical, cultural, familial, and geographic ties, linked by common values and mutual interests, what that means for U.S. businesses is millions of new consumers with an ingrained affinity for U.S. goods and services.
Greater economic integration will also create momentum to deal with other challenges in the region, from security issues to modernizing immigration policy -- not to mention rendering obsolete once and for all the retrograde populist agendas of some who prefer looking to the past rather than the future.
It's time that U.S. policymakers dispensed once and for all with Old Think when it comes to Latin America: that is, what is it the U.S. can do for the region. Today, it is what we can do together to benefit all the peoples of the hemisphere and boost our own recovery and competitiveness. If President Obama is to pursue an aggressive trade agenda in his second term, the incentives are powerful for a fundamental reassessment of relations right here in our own hemisphere.
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By Otto J. Reich and Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger
Seventy-one years ago this week, on December 7, 1941, the United States changed forever. What began as a tranquil day in a country that thought it could avoid the violence wracking the rest of the world ended with a bloody and unprovoked surprise attack. That "day that shall live in infamy" -- in President Franklin Roosevelt's famous words -- saw our country transformed from a growing but isolated nation into the military, technological and economic superpower that routed a vicious totalitarian Axis, then a brutal communist empire, and that has ensured peace and democracy in the world ever since.
On December 7, 2012, the people of Argentina will wake up to a different assault. The attack on its freedoms will not be a surprise and it will not come from a foreign empire. It will be a pre-announced offensive on freedom of expression, the most fundamental liberty of any democracy, and it will come from the increasingly despotic regime headed by Cristina Kirchner, a left-wing populist that, like most authoritarians, cannot abide an independent press.
It is often said that Argentines only protest when the economy hurts their pockets. If so, last November 8, was an exception to this rule. On that day about a million people across that country took to the streets with a clear message: Argentina wants more freedom, an independent judiciary, free press, and an end to widespread corruption. Unlike previous protests, this time the Argentines rallied not for better pay but for the basic principles that a democracy requires to function.
In the last year, after winning re-election with over 54 percent of the vote, Mrs. Kirchner apparently felt that an electoral majority allowed her to crudely grab all remaining power and move aggressively against every sector of society that she saw as a threat.
Motivated by Kirchner's removal of her democratic face mask, the protesters carried signs and placards denouncing many policies of the government, including violations of the constitutional separation of powers (e.g, threats, blackmail and extortion against judges); corruption scandals at the highest levels of government such as with the sitting vice-president; resumption of close diplomatic relations with Iran, with the concomitant somber foreign policy implications; and arbitrary restrictions on private enterprise, such as blocking access to foreign currency for commercial transactions and obstacles to importation of goods from abroad.
But the biggest immediate challenge facing the country, and the largest target of popular discontent, are the threats to press freedom coming from Kirchner. Many of the other indignations described above would not have been known but for the existence of an independent press that the government is trying to silence. And among the most professional and hard-hitting journalistic reporting is that by the largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarin.
Two years ago, Mrs. Kirchner saw to it that the Congress pass a new media law that seeks to break up the Grupo Clarin, a move that in the opinion of many jurists is unconstitutional. After several judicial processes, in which the government tried to maliciously influence the judges' decisions, the President announced that on December 7 Grupo Clarin will shed many of its properties. If this occurs, it could spell the beginning of the end of press freedom in the Argentina, since Clarin is a trial balloon to be followed by Government attacks on smaller news organizations less able to defend themselves.
But not only is press freedom threatened. If the government is able to neutralize Grupo Clarin, representative democracy itself will be tested. Without the independent media's courage to expose the abuses and scandals of the government, President Kirchner will have eliminated the largest obstacle in her path toward the "constitutional reform" that would allow her to remain in power for an unprecedented third term, or perhaps indefinitely.
Argentina is once again at a crossroads. On November 8, its people arose and demanded the President respect basic principles. On December 7, Argentines will face their own "Pearl Harbor," seeing one of its most illustrious institutions shatter. If, on the other hand, they stand and defend their Constitution and freedoms, they will put a stop to Kirchner's plans for autocratic government and avoid the self-destructive path followed by the Cuban, Venezuelan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, and other left-wing hemispheric governments.
The U.S. and other Western governments have a responsibility to defend the people of Argentina. Just as on December 7, 1941 the U.S. was bloodied but not broken, so will the people of Argentina recover their freedoms, sometime in the future, probably after a fierce but non-violent struggle, but one that must count with the support of the free world.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
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While we have no doubt that Bob Schieffer, the moderator of Monday night's foreign policy debate, will have plenty of material to choose from in formulating his questions for the candidates, we couldn't resist a chance to add our own suggestions. Following are some potential questions for the debate as submitted by the Shadow Government crew:
1. Mr. President, is there any foreign policy challenge America faces that you would concede has gotten worse on your watch because of actions you have taken or not taken? In other words, is there any foreign policy problem that you would say can be blamed at least partly on you and not entirely on Republicans or President Bush?
2. Mr. President, what is the fairest criticism of your foreign policy record that you have heard from Governor Romney over the course of this campaign?
3. Mr. President, what is the most unfair criticism of Romney's foreign policy platform that you have heard your supporters levy over the course of this campaign?
4. Mr. President, why do you say that Romney is proposing defense expenditures that the military have not asked for when Romney is just proposing restoring funding to the levels you claimed were needed in your own budget a few years ago. That budget, which you asked for, reflected what the military asked for didn't it? And didn't you order the military to accept deeper cuts -- thus they can't now speak up and ask for those levels to be restored without being insubordinate, so isn't it misleading to claim that they are not asking for them when you ordered them not to?
5. For both: Both campaigns have featured senior retired military endorsements as a way of demonstrating your fitness to be commander-in-chief. Don't you worry that such endorsements drag the military into partisan politics, thus undermining public confidence in a non-partisan military institution?
1. Mr. President, history tells us that prestige matters; that is, nation-states who are regarded for their power, whether military, economic or moral, are less often challenged by those who wish to upset the peace or change the international order that favors the interests of the great powers. Has your administration seen an increase in the prestige of the United States or a decrease, and why?
2. For both: Isn't a reform of our foreign aid system and institutions long overdue, and shouldn't reform have as its primary goal the promotion of direct and tangible US interests, such as more trade with more countries that govern themselves democratically? If this is truly the appropriate goal for international development funds, then why aren't all aid recipients required to practice sustained and real democracy?
1. For both: Do you believe that the economically endangered nations of Europe should adopt policies of austerity, as countries like Germany have argued, or that they should turn instead to more fiscal stimulus? If you prefer stimulus, is there any level of debt/GDP at which you get concerned about their ability to pay those debts? If you believe these countries should borrow more, from whom should they borrow? Should the United States be offering funds?
2. For both: There has been almost no progress on global trade talks since the summer of
2008. How would you assess the health of the World Trade Organization and the
world trading system? Is this important for the United States? What would you
do to strengthen the WTO, if anything?
3. For both: In 2009, in response to the stimulus bill, a top Chinese economic official said, ""We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion... we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do...." Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, has accused the United States Federal Reserve of igniting a global currency war with its policies of quantitative easing. To what extent does the United States need to consider the international ramifications of its economic policies? Do you believe a strong dollar is in the U.S. interest? If so, what does that mean?
1. For both: What do you consider the top two national security threats to our country?
2. For both: How do you see increasing energy independence for the United States affecting our foreign policy?
3. President Obama, you have threatened to veto any changes to the 2010 Budget Control Act, yet both your Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe sequestration going into effect would be disastrous. How will you enact the Budget Control Act without damaging our national defense?
4. Governor Romney, you have committed to increase defense spending; where does the money come from to do that in year 1 of a Romney administration?
5. President Obama, Vice President Biden has said that your administration will withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanstan in 2014, whether or not the Afghan security forces are then capable of taking over the fight. Do you agree?
1. For both: Under what circumstances would you authorize military action against Iran's nuclear facilities? Will you intervene to stop the civil war in Syria? If so, what lessons have you learned from our recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya that will shape how you undertake an intervention? How do you plan to accomplish a responsible transition to Afghan leadership for security there? What should be the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after transition, and how many troops will be required to accomplish it? Or do you envision a complete withdrawal of all forces?
2. For both: Should the United States support the spread of democracy abroad? What is the role of democracy assistance in U.S. grand strategy, and how does it relate to our overall national interests? How will you respond to future peaceful uprisings like the Green Revolution or the Arab Spring?
3. For both: Some Americans are concerned that the government has accumulated too much power over the last decade in its effort to develop a robust counterterrorism capability. Others believe we need to keep those powers because the terrorist threat has not abated. Do you plan to sustain the government's new, post-9/11 war-time powers, reportedly including targeted killings and indefinite detentions, indefinitely? If not, will you publicly and explicitly commit to defining a clear end-state to the war against al Qaeda, the achievement of which will terminate the new powers?
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The Obama campaign recently took umbrage with criticisms of the president's Cuba policy by Paul Ryan in a campaign swing through Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community. Ryan charged that the policy amounted to appeasement of the Castro regime, to which the campaign responded that Obama "has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo with Cuba, pressured the Castro regime to give its people more of a say in their own future, and supported democracy movements on the island."
Yet even as the campaign defended the president's policy, administration officials were furiously rewriting the rules of one of the president's signature Cuba initiatives that had gone scandalously awry.
Last year, the Obama administration significantly liberalized Bush-era restrictions on private travel to Cuba that were designed to deny hard currency transfers to the Stalinist dictatorship. The thinking behind the change was that "purposeful" or "people-to-people" travel can build relationships between Americans and Cubans and empower the latter to think and act as individuals rather than as vassals of the state.
Well, as it happens, the initiative came to serve no purpose other than to become a propaganda vehicle for the Castro regime with the complicity of fellow-traveling U.S. tour operators. Far from promoting contact with real Cubans, the trip itineraries revealed close collaboration with the Castro regime and featured interactions only with Cubans approved by the regime -- hapless minions who could only be counted on to spout the party line that all of poor, little Cuba's problems are caused by the big, mean old United States.
And where the indoctrination ended, it was rounded-out by frivolous tourist activities -- rum, salsa, Hemingway! -- that are carefully walled off from interaction with ordinary Cuban citizens.
In fact, the abuses became so flagrant that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) held up the nomination of a senior State Department official until the administration agreed to review a program that had egregiously gone off track.
Typical of the purposeless results is a recent report in which a professor at the University of Iowa gushed about an essay written by a student after meeting with "an American fugitive who had escaped the country and taken asylum in Cuba." That would likely be either Joanne Chesimard or Charlie Hill, two radicals wanted by U.S. authorities for the murders of U.S. law enforcement officials in the 1970s.
Then there is the Duke University Alumni Association promoting an "Art & Architecture Tour of Havana" next month. Not only is the trip wholly choreographed by the Castro regime, but the group is only allowed to meet with regime-approved artists. But the key line in their brochure is this: "The arts have long presented Cubans with an opportunity to cautiously express their views on society."
Such an assertion is patently false and only demonstrates the dishonest degree trip organizers will go to pretend they are serving a higher cause in traveling to Cuba -- and receive their coveted license to travel. And in it they provide the most salient lesson of all: that engagement with totalitarian regimes rarely changes them, but it does change us. It forces people to obfuscate their language, to compromise their values, and to accept unjust and immoral situations and arrangements they wouldn't tolerate anywhere else in the world.
It remains to be seen if the Obama administration will restore some sanity to its liberalized travel regime to Cuba by truly making it purposeful and people-to-people. They have an opportunity to act to demonstrate they really are working to help the Cuban people have more of a say in their own future and to support democracy movements on the island. Because the status quo is having the exact opposite effect: by further enabling the Castro brothers to suffocate the Cuban people's legitimate aspirations for freedom and a better future.
Ever since Julian Assange sought the diplomatic protection of the government of Rafael Correa in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in June, there has been much commentary on the seemingly odd political pairing of a supposed champion of government transparency with an erratic president mostly known for his horrendous record of press abuse at home.
I have written previously that Assange's embrace of Correa exposes the former computer hacker as a fraud and that his reckless exposure of U.S. confidential documents was no blow for freedom of information. Instead, that his real agenda was to try and harm the United States' attempts to play a leadership role in ensuring the security of the prevailing global system.
For Correa's part, many have speculated his association with Assange is meant to expressly counter his (well-deserved) international image as intolerant of a free and independent media. Others see him embracing the Assange cause as an audition to replace an ailing Hugo Chávez of Venezuela as the leader of South America's perpetually angry Left.
It is certainly all that, but also more. And President Correa pretty much summed it up in comments this week: "This is not a about patching up systems that have not worked for centuries," he said. "It is about changing the systems, and that is why we are clashing with national and international powers that want things to stay as they are."
Thus, his granting of political asylum to Assange is meant as a direct provocation and challenge to long-established roots of international order and accepted behavior. Painstakingly built up by the United States and its allies over the last century, this interlocking system of institutions and largely accepted international norms has helped not only to maintain a remarkable level of global stability in recent decades, but has irrefutably created the conditions for unprecedented global economic growth that has pulled billions out of poverty.
Is the system perfect? Of course not. But as Robert Kagan has pointed out in his recent book, The World America Made, the alternatives are not very appealing.
But you will always have the outliers, the self-alienated who feel compelled to act out against the system for whatever reason - historical, cultural, or just plain personal. This is precisely what Assange and Correa are all about: tearing down what has gone before, motivated by no more than spite.
As the old Midwestern saying goes, "Any jackass can kick down a barn." In other words, destruction is easy. Where the credit for human progress lies is with the builders and creators - and those who carry the burden of protecting environments where builders and creators can thrive.
Granting political asylum to someone wanted in Sweden (of all places!) for questioning on allegations of sexual assault is by any measure a gross abuse of accepted standards of behavior (no matter what outlandish conspiracies theories people think lie behind the charges).
Thus, the central question in London is this, will established rules and norms prevail or are we prepared to allow the Assanges and Correas of the world to begin rewriting them as we go along?
For my money, the future most certainly should not be allowed to lie in the hands of these two pied pipers of anarchy.
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Once again, a prominent Cuban dissident has met an untimely death under suspicious circumstances. According to the Castro regime, Oswaldo Payá, 60, was killed Sunday in a "one-car accident" after the vehicle in which he was riding skidded off the road and collided with a tree. A dissident colleague of his was also killed and two Europeans in Cuba to support Cuba's oppressed opposition movement were injured.
Payá's family immediately disputed the official version of what had happened. His daughter told CNN that the car in which her father and the others were riding was actually struck by another vehicle before losing control. His son told the BBC that his father had received many death threats and another well-known dissident, Marta Beatriz Roque, told reporters, "He had said they were going to kill him. And this was the third accident he had this year."
Indeed. Ramming vehicles carrying dissidents and foreign supporters, including diplomats, has been a stock-in-trade act of intimidation by Cuban state security for years. It is entirely believable that this was another such incident gone horribly wrong. Only the two Europeans can set the record straight. They are said to be now in the care of their embassies.
Oswaldo Payá was a Cuban patriot, best known for his spearheading the Varela Project, named after a famous Cuban clergyman and independence advocate, which used provisions of Castro's own constitution to challenge the lack of basic civil and human rights in Cuba, for which he collected some 11,000 signatures on the island.
Humiliated, the regime could not do anything but expressly violate its own constitution by ignoring Payá's petition and staging yet another mass mobilization to convince no one "the people" were united behind the Castro regime. For this effort, Payá was awarded the European Union's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Payá, a devout Catholic, was his own man, beholden to no one. He was never cowed by the regime's incessant harassment and intimidation tactics, and he would diverge from prevalent thought in the Cuban exile community. He once wrote in the Miami Herald, "Lifting the embargo won't solve the problems of the Cuban people. Maintaining it is no solution, either."
Oswaldo Payá was man of independent thought and action. Although his profile began to wane in recent years with the emergence of a younger generation of home-grown Cuban activists savvy in the ways of electronic media, a man like Payá would have been indispensable in reconciling the Cuban nation following fifty-plus years of tyranny under the Castro brothers. He was about non-violence and mutual respect and he believed in the unity of the Cuban nation. Instead, another powerful and enlightened Cuban voice has been silenced by the Castro regime's intolerance and cowardice.
In this country, one hopes that Payá's sacrifice can have some effect on the thinking of critics of U.S. policy. Payá was everything their caricature of Cuban dissidents was not; he did not receive official U.S. support, he would criticize U.S. policy and exile opinion when he believed it necessary, and he tried to affect reform working within the system -- something even former President Jimmy Carter supported.
And still it did not protect him from the regime's wrath. The question those critics ought to be asking themselves now is, where do we go from here?
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I'd like to follow up on my colleague Jose Cardenas' excellent post last week on the presidential election in Mexico. The PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto has won, but with only a little more than 38 percent of the vote. He will have to make deals with the opposition in the national legislature to get the much needed reforms he promised; exert his authority over the PRI at all levels, including the governors; handle any lingering student protests deftly; and win over critics in the United States and abroad who have a phobia where the PRI is concerned. All these burdens are legitimately laid on him, but the latter one is arguably unfair and unhelpful if taken too far.
As it is said, "the sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the third and fourth generations." Nevertheless, Peña Nieto should not be held accountable for the PRI's misdeeds and political culture over 71 years of rule for two very good reasons. First, he has already demonstrated in his governorship of Mexico state that though he might be a scion of the quintessential old guard, he has governed differently in many ways. For example, he was a reformer in his state as he tackled tax cheating at every level, including in his own cabinet. And Peña Nieto has experience working with an opposition legislature as governor.
Second, he has positioned himself among a line of PRI reformers. The PRI was transforming itself, albeit slowly, even from the time of Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado in the 1980s. In other words, let's give credit where it is due and see the previous three PRI presidents, even with their warts, as reformers who had already begun to free the PRI from the grip of the dinosaurs. From the 1980s on, the PRI was pro-free trade, seeking foreign investment and knocking down barriers to it. By the time of Ernesto Zedillo, the PRI was on the path to reforming and improving Mexico's democratic institutions and culture. The PRI has been choosing candidates by primaries for years now and has been learning what a legitimate opposition actually is by having to live as one. Maybe we can say that with Peña Nieto enough generations have lapsed for the sins to be expunged. It is time to start fresh with the PRI and give him a guarded benefit of the doubt.
He has started his national presence rather well, despite the accusations of electoral fraud that will be evaluated by the elections tribunal. Peña Nieto led in the polls for most of the campaign and the charges tossed about now are so far mostly about the perennial vote-buying and media bias. In the old days, the charges would have been electronic manipulation of the vote and outright ballot-box stuffing; who can forget the "computer crash" that led to the victory of Carlos Salinas in 1988 that no one doubts was fraudulent. We'll see if any of the charges hold up or if there are more serious ones, but for the most part, it appears that not even the PRD loser, Lopez Obrador, is willing to go the barricades again as he did for months his last time out.
Throughout his campaign and even now as the president-elect, Peña Nieto has said a lot of things that should encourage the United States and win over at least those segments of Mexico that understand that there is no chance of growth and prosperity without a strong commercial Mexico that works well with the United States, regional partners, and the emerging Pacific Alliance. Most important of all, Peña Nieto is determined to reform the labor laws and foreign ownership regulations that have stymied Mexico's growth. The PRI blocked these reforms while in opposition, most likely out of a stubborn refusal to allow the PAN presidents to win their biggest agenda items. But now the PRI is led by a president who campaigned to do these things because he knows, unlike the dinosaurs, that there is no other option if Mexico is to prosper. The PRI and the PAN will have a chance to make an alliance for reform. Let's hope the PAN is not stricken with foolish pride. It is certain that the PRD leftists will not try to move Mexico into the modern world of global competition and cooperation among investors and producers.
So a PRI victory can certainly be a boon for the United States. It already is in some ways regarding the security issues surrounding the drug war. Peña Nieto's tapping of the former Colombian National Police Chief, Oscar Naranjo, as his advisor speaks volumes for his commitment and determination to continue the war against those who make war on society. While he might change some tactics, the public and the new president appear as committed as ever to curtailing the violence with all the means the state can bring to the task. Will he focus more on stopping the violence and less on arresting kingpins? Perhaps, but that is not the same thing as saying he will return to the old PRI modus vivendi of making deals with outlaws. He'd lose Naranjo quickly if that is his plan and he has no interest in making both his citizens and the United States nervous by doing so.
And speaking of interests, in all the problems he'll face, the new president has zero interest in returning to his party's corporatist, statist, and sometimes violent roots. He has demonstrated with bold words and deeds that he is a modern politician of a chastened party that, having begun to reform itself and having suffered 12 years in the wilderness, knows what the future must look like. He might have been raised by the dinosaurs in his home state (which was for decades ground zero for the dinosaurs), but he talks and acts like a different breed. He appears to be a leader who can appreciate the technocrats who began the changes in his party (and he surrounds himself with U.S.-educated advisors), but so far he seems to be a politician who can get things done, who knows how to lead Mexico for what it is while looking ahead to what it can be.
Only Nixon could go to China, another saying goes. And perhaps only the PRI can take Mexico fully into a future of free trade, free labor, and freely flowing -- and abundant -- foreign investment in the moribund Mexican energy sector. The United States should not squander the opportunity to give this new leader and this hopefully newly reborn party a chance to prove his critics wrong.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.