Pakistan has just held a historic election with the highest voter turnout in four decades. For the first time, a civilian administration completed its full term and handed power to new civilian leadership. The military stayed in its barracks and did not openly seek to tilt the electoral playing field, as in the past. Youth turnout was strong. From the ground, where I was part of a delegation from the National Democratic Institute observing the election, Pakistan did not look like a failed state. Rather, it appeared to be a country whose people desperately want good governance and economic opportunity, and believe their democratic choice may help deliver it.
Yet there is another Pakistan, one in which nearly 150 people - including political candidates and their supporters - were killed by the Pakistani Taliban over the past month. Leading politicians from national and regional parties were unable to campaign as militants placed "head money" not only on candidates but on their wives and children. A former prime minister's son, running for a parliamentary seat, was kidnapped in broad daylight at a political rally just days before the vote. And the chairman of the nation's ruling party had to campaign from abroad, so fearful was he of assassination by militants. Dozens were killed in election-day violence in Karachi, the country's commercial capital - despite the nationwide deployment of 300,000 extra security forces to ensure peaceful balloting.
Incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) faced down a late surge by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), now confronts enormous expectations. During the previous five years of rule by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the country's energy infrastructure fell further behind the burgeoning demand, while economic growth lagged badly. Corruption among the country's governing elite reached new heights, despite Pakistan's enormous socioeconomic deficits. The Pakistani Taliban strengthened its position not only in the rugged borderlands along the Afghan frontier but in major urban centers. Sectarian violence between Sunni extremist groups and persecuted Shia and Christian minorities spiked. In short, Pakistan began to look ever more like a failing state, with leaders unable or unwilling to confront vexing national challenges.
Sharif has pledged to focus on expanding reliable energy supply and economic reforms to catalyze growth and job creation. Although Pakistani democracy received a fillip from Saturday's vote, the authoritarian temptation will return if this government cannot put the country on a sustainable economic trajectory. That will require a prime minister who not only can leverage his private-sector background to press for real reforms, but also roll back the corruption and misgovernance that have condemned Pakistan to lackluster economic growth.
Another hoped-for incentive for reform will be the long shadow cast by PTI leader Imran Khan, whose party fell short in the elections but captured the imagination of young, urban Pakistanis with its challenge to politics-as-usual. Khan has been playing a long game, sitting out the last elections in 2008 because he did not believe they would be free and fair, establishing intra-party democracy that highlights the dynastic qualities of the other parties, and speaking bluntly about the failure of the Pakistani state to reflect its people's aspirations. Given demographic and socioeconomic shifts in Pakistani society, his party threatens to displace the PPP and challenge the PML-N as Pakistan's leading political movement. To placate and co-opt Khan's fervent supporters, Sharif will need to deliver on his promises or risk fueling Khan's anti-establishment narrative.
Pakistan's new leaders will also need to manage relations with other internal constituencies, including an activist judiciary and a powerful military lurking just offstage. This year will see the retirement of the assertive chief justice of the Supreme Court, the departure of the president from office, and the retirement of the chief of army staff. The choice of their successors will do much to shape Sharif's ability to deliver on his governing agenda.
Finally, the external environment may become more favorable to Pakistani reform and growth. India hopes to resume the détente that started with the 1999 Lahore Declaration during Sharif's previous tenure as prime minister. The drawdown of Western forces in Afghanistan will create instabilities, but they also create the opportunity for Pakistan and the United States to enjoy a more normal relationship not premised on Pakistani cooperation (or lack thereof) in a third country. Pakistan's successful democratic transition, combined with its increasingly dangerous pathologies, suggest that it is high time the West dehyphenated Af-Pak and focused on how Islamabad can deliver on its people's aspirations to live in a thriving, peaceful nation -- not a Talibanized one.
A version of this article appeared as a German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Take (www.gmfus.org) .
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This Saturday, Iraqis head to the polls to vote for provincial councils -- the country's first elections since U.S. troops withdrew sixteen months ago. The balloting comes at a time of growing peril for Iraq. Violence is escalating, as are tensions pitting the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against the country's Sunni and Kurdish communities -- all exacerbated by the raging civil war in neighboring Syria. While posing a stern test to the viability of Iraq's democratic system, the elections will also serve as an important indicator of the relative strength of Iraq's competing coalitions -- especially Maliki's -- in advance of national elections scheduled for 2014.
At stake are nearly 450 seats on local governing bodies. More than 8100 candidates from some 265 political entities are competing. The elections cover 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government will vote later this year, while elections in oil-rich and ethnically disputed Kirkuk have (by tacit agreement among the competing communities) not been held since 2005.
But in a highly controversial move, Maliki's cabinet decreed in March that balloting would be delayed by up to six months in Iraq's two most influential Sunni-majority provinces, Anbar and Nineveh -- both of which border Syria and have for months been the locus of large-scale (but mostly peaceful) anti-Maliki protests. Maliki claimed -- not entirely without justification, especially in Anbar -- that he was simply responding to the petition of local leaders worried that voters could not be adequately protected from growing collaboration between al Qaeda affiliates on either sides of the Iraq-Syria border.
His opponents charge that the prime minister's real agenda is avoiding a massive anti-Maliki turnout that would further escalate opposition to his government. They correctly note that previous elections were conducted under far more threatening conditions. Both the U.S. and U.N. urged Maliki to reverse course, worried about the appearance of disenfranchising millions of Sunnis already agitated by claims that Maliki has been systematically moving to marginalize their community in the interests of establishing an Iranian-backed Shiite dictatorship. Maliki turned aside these criticisms, while suggesting the delayed elections might occur as early as May.
The reality is that violence threatens voting throughout Iraq. A series of more than 20 terror attacks on Monday hit targets across the country, including prospective polling places, killing Sunnis and Shiites alike. These were but the latest in a string of al Qaeda-linked assaults that have occurred at increasingly regular intervals. The campaign has also been marred by at least 15 candidate assassinations, all of them Sunnis and many believed to have been killed not by Al Qaeda but by political rivals within their own community.
Whether Iraqi security forces can successfully protect the elections without the support previously provided by tens of thousands of U.S. troops is a major question mark. The fact that close to 700,000 army and police officers went to the polls in early voting last Saturday without incident was encouraging. Also of concern, however, is the possibility that the mere threat of violence could significantly depress turnout, stoking doubts about the legitimacy and future of Iraq's shaky democracy. An especially important indicator could be the participation of Sunnis -- a potential barometer of that disgruntled community's continued commitment to the post-2003 political order or, alternatively, a troubling sign that, perhaps inspired by co-religionists in neighboring Syria, they are looking to more confrontational methods to redress their grievances.
Beyond violence, ensuring the integrity of the electoral process has to be a real worry. There is no doubt that America's heavy involvement during past elections helped deter fraud to a minimum. Absence that involvement, the risk of widespread wrongdoing -- or simply the perception of wrongdoing -- increases dramatically, even with the presence of a few hundred international observers and several thousand domestic monitors. The danger that significant swaths of the public may simply reject the legitimacy of the results cannot be discounted.
Assuming a relatively free and fair vote, the outcome of Saturday's elections is hard to predict. No reliable polling is publicly available. Maliki has confidently claimed that his coalition will win big. In recent weeks, he has shrewdly sought to divide his Sunni opposition (including through a surprising set of proposals to ease de-Baathifcation laws), successfully co-opting stalwart nationalists like Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq. The Iraqiya bloc of his main rival, former prime minister Ayad Allawi (a secular Shiite), has splintered, with the current speaker of parliament, Osama Nujaifi, and the former finance minister, Rafi Issawi, forming their own Sunni-based coalition.
Nevertheless, surprises remain possible. In local elections, a voter's familiarity with a hometown candidate can often trump allegiance to a national party. In provincial balloting four years ago, Iraqis voted to punish incumbents -- an inclination that if repeated on Saturday could well work against Maliki and to the benefit of his major Shiite rivals in the Islamic Supreme Council and Sadrist camp -- both of which are fielding their own candidates. For all his troubles, Allawi's bloc is the only one competing in all Iraq's provinces, both Sunni and Shiite, a nationalist vocation that could well accrue to his benefit. And even if Maliki's State of Law emerges as the top vote getter, post-election coalitions among his opponents could emerge that deny him the degree of local domination that he seeks.
Should Maliki nevertheless secure an overwhelming victory, it will likely fuel fears that his most worrisome authoritarian tendencies will be emboldened: more consolidation of control over key state institutions, particularly the means of coercion and the courts; more targeting and exclusion of political opponents; an intensified effort to resolve disputes with Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni minorities through confrontation; and increased dependence on Iran. Maliki's chances of winning next year's national elections, another four years in office, and increasingly unconstrained powers would increase significantly. Should such fears be realized, the results for Iraqi stability and unity could be dire indeed -- especially in a regional context of dramatically heightened sectarian and ethnic tensions, perhaps leading to all-out state collapse in next-door Syria.
From that standpoint, Iraq's future may be best served if Saturday's elections see not only minimal violence, maximum participation, and limited irregularities, but also no clear winners and losers -- a triumph not only of the democratic process, but a therapeutic re-balancing of Iraq's political landscape that reminds all parties of the continued imperative of negotiation, compromise, and political partnership.
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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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Walter Russell Mead has just published his assessment of the Bush foreign policy legacy. He describes it as "Part One," which hints that more is forthcoming. But there is plenty to chew on in this first epistle.
Let me say up front that Mead's Via Meadia blog is one of the few genuine "must-reads" in the blogosphere, that I am very often in agreement with much of what he writes there, and that I consider Walter a personal friend and intellectual mentor. The Economist calls Mead the "bearded sage," and it is an apt appreciation. I regularly assign his books to my students, and they are among the favorite class readings each semester.
So I have tried to weigh his words carefully, and there is much truth in his account. Iraq and Afghanistan were riddled with strategic and tactical mistakes. American diplomacy, especially during the first term, often was clumsy and needlessly provocative. Don't just take my or Mead's word for it -- former President Bush himself has acknowledged as much.
As it says in the Good Book, "faithful are the wounds of a friend." As an erstwhile supporter of many Bush Administration policies and as a consistent friend of reasoned discourse, wise policy, and America's national interests, Mead's words should be considered and taken in the irenic and constructive spirit they are intended.
So what hath Mead wrought? Part of the question concerns his intended purpose, which seems to veer back and forth between a political assessment of the Bush years' damage to the GOP brand in the minds of voters, and a policy assessment of Bush's overall national security legacy. The two are related but still distinct. A healthy political assessment would entail two things: On policy mistakes, it means Republicans engaging in healthy public discussion of where and why we got things wrong, and on policy successes it means describing the things we did get right -- especially in the first drafts of history now being written.
My fundamental concern with the Mead article is that it concentrates exclusively on the policy mistakes while completely ignoring the successes, and thus presents an imbalanced and even distorted picture of the overall Bush legacy.
Just as a catalogue of the Bush administration's mistakes and deficiencies, there is much Mead cites to contemplate, including many aspects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Heck, I could even add a few other items to the list, such as the mistaken policy in the 2007-2008 window of easing pressure and offering inducements to the North Korean regime in the vain hopes that then-dictator Kim Jong Il would relinquish his nuclear weapons.
But as an effort to take a comprehensive stock of the Bush administration's foreign policy, to weigh the Bush legacy as a whole, well, even bearded sages are not infallible oracles (nor, in fairness, would a good Anglican like Mead claim infallibility!). Mead overlooks many strategic successes of the Bush administration and in places seems to blame Bush for things that did not occur on his watch. In short, reading this assessment seems rather like reading an account of Reagan's presidency that highlights major failings like the Iran-Contra scandal, the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, serious rifts with European allies, and increases in deficit spending -- but then somehow fails to mention Reagan's leadership in the Cold War's dénouement and Soviet defeat. Or like reading an account of the Truman administration that only describes the quagmire of the Korean war, the fall of China to communism, and the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb -- but fails to mention the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO, and other successful foundations of American Cold War policy.
No, no, I am not simply equating Reagan or Truman with Bush. What I am saying is this: In the main strategic threat the Bush faced as president, of Islamist terrorism, he succeeded in the overarching goal after September 11 of protecting the nation from any other large-scale terrorist attack. This possibility, almost unthinkable in the weeks and months after 9/11, is a first-order success and important context for the Bush record. Yet Mead does not mention it at all. Nor does he mention another revealing validation of the Bush legacy: the fact that the Obama administration has largely embraced the entire Bush counterterrorism system and strategic framework.
Turning to Bush's freedom agenda, Mead seems to imply that the current instability and chaos of the Arab Awakening are somehow Bush's fault, or at least can fairly be ascribed to the Bush administration by the American public (e.g. "the argument that Bush's Arab democracy promotion agenda was such a glittering success that we should double down on it is a big time loser in American politics"). But this is caricature. It overlooks two fundamentally important points. First, Bush in 2003 made the strategic insight that the old order of American support for sclerotic autocracies across the Middle East simply was not tenable. The autocracies were fragile, corrupt, oppressive, and unsustainable as stable pillars of a strategic order. Second, Bush called for supporting political reform and human liberty as an urgent alternative to popular revolution.
In other words, Bush tried to put the United States on the side of Arab and Persian popular aspirations for more accountable governance before things boiled over into rioting in the streets, as began in December 2010 in Tunisia. It is simply a false choice to imply that the Arab autocracies could have continued indefinitely, as stable custodians of order in a fractious region. Instead, better to push for peaceful reforms within those systems while it was still possible. So while Bush can be credited with predicting that something like the Arab Awakening would eventually happen, he should not be blamed for the disappointments when it actually did take place. (The Obama administration, on the other hand, will likely not be judged well by history for its confused and negligent policies toward the Arab and Persian revolutions).
Mead also completely fails to mention another important Bush legacy, one that arguably might be more consequential as history unfolds: building the foundation for a new strategic order in Asia. From the strategic opening to India, to strengthened alliances with traditional friends like Japan and Australia and new partnerships with emerging powers like Vietnam, to the dual-track framework of engagement and dissuasion towards China, the Bush administration laid the groundwork for continued American leadership in the Asia-Pacific, the most dynamic region of the 21st century. Again, wisdom is vindicated by her children. After some Asia-policy missteps in its first year, the Obama administration pivoted (sorry, couldn't resist) back to the Bush strategic framework for Asia.
There are many other Bush successes and legacies that Mead fails to mention, including one of the most successful public health programs in history (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief targeted in sub-Saharan Africa), extensive free trade agreements, expansion of ballistic missile defense (for which the Obama White House is now very thankful), Libya's relinquishment of its WMD program, the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan that laid the groundwork for South Sudan's independence, and the first official presidential commitment to Palestinian statehood, just to cite a few. On balance and in the whole, the Bush foreign policy legacy stands a good chance of being judged more favorably in history than by the conventional wisdom today.
What does all of this mean for Mead's main point? He is right that Republicans need to come to terms with the Bush administration's legacy. Yet what complicates that is the implicit demand by many in the media and punditocracy that "coming to terms" requires "embracing the caricature." Peddling the Bush caricature may help the electoral prospects of Democrats, but what would help Republicans more -- and the cause of constructive debate overall -- is an accurate, balanced, and comprehensive assessment of the Bush foreign policy. Which in truth is far more nuanced than the incomplete assessment, verging on caricature, which emerges from Mead's "part one." I am hopeful that "part two" will be more judicious.
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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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Here on the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I wonder how long it will be before we can discuss the war free from the contamination of myths. It may be sooner than many myth-purveyors expect. Just listen to this lecture by Mel Leffler, one of the leading historians of American diplomacy. He has been a harsh critic of Bush-era diplomacy and his speech does accept some of the conventional critique (specifically about the "hubris" of the Bush administration), but his analysis is far more balanced than the conventional wisdom on the topic. All in all, Leffler's analysis is a promising example of myth-busting.
For my part, the myths that get thrown at me most often have to do with why the war happened in the first place. Here are five of the most pervasive myths:
1. The Bush administration went to war against Iraq because it thought (or claimed to think) Iraq had been behind the 9/11 attacks. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration did explore the possibility that Hussein might have collaborated with al Qaeda on the attacks. Vice President Dick Cheney (along with some officials in the secretary of defense's office) in particular believed this hypothesis had some merit, and in the early months gave considerable weight to some tantalizing evidence that seemed to support it. However, by the fall of 2002 when the administration was in fact selling the policy of confronting Hussein, the question of a specific link to 9/11 was abandoned and Cheney instead emphasized the larger possibility of collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda. We now know that those fears were reasonable and supported by the evidence captured in Iraq after the invasion. This has been documented extensively through the work of the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC), which examined the captured files of the Hussein regime. A 2012 International Studies Association panel sponsored by the CRRC on "Saddam and Terrorism" was devoted to this topic and spent quite a bit of time demonstrating how those who insist that there were no links whatsoever simply rely on a poorly worded sentence referencing "no smoking gun" of a "direct connection" in the executive summary of the 2007 "Iraqi Perspectives Project - Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Documents" report and ignore the evidence of links and attempted connections uncovered in the report itself as well as subsequent work by the project.
2. The Bush administration went to war against Iraq because it wanted to forcibly democratize Iraq. The administration was, in the end, committed to using force to defend the democratization project in Iraq but this myth has the logical sequence out of order. The correct sequence, as Leffler and myriad memoirs and contemporaneous reporting demonstrate, is this: (1) Bush was committed to confronting Iraq because of the changed risk calculus brought about by 9/11, which heightened our sensitivity to the nexus of WMD and terrorism (believing that state sponsors of terrorism who had WMD would be a likely pathway by which terrorist networks like al Qaeda could secure WMD); (2) Bush was also committed not to making the mistake of Desert Storm, namely stopping the war with Hussein still in power and concluded that confronting Hussein must end with either full capitulation by Hussein or regime change through war; (3) given regime change, the best option for the new Iraq was one based on pluralism and representative government rather than a "man on horseback" new dictator to take Hussein's place. To be sure, the Bush administration greatly underestimated the difficulty of the democratization path, but democratization was not the prime motivation -- confronting the WMD threat was. Democratization was the consequence of that prime motivation.
3. The "real" motivation behind the Iraq war was the desire to steal Iraqi oil, or boost Halliburton profits, or divert domestic attention from the Enron scandal, or pay off the Israel lobby, or exact revenge on Hussein for his assassination attempt on President George H. W. Bush. These conspiracy theories are ubiquitous on the far left (and right) fringes, and some of them were endorsed by mainstream figures such as President Obama himself. All of them seem impervious to argument, evidence, and reason. The absence of evidence is taken as proof of the strength of the conspiracy. Contrary evidence -- eg., that Israel was more concerned about the threat from Iran than the threat from Iraq -- is dismissed. Mel Leffler's lecture on Iraq is a bracing tonic of reason that rebuts many of these nutty charges, but I suppose true believers will never be convinced.
4. What Frank Harvey calls the "neoconism" myth -- that the Iraq war was forced upon the country by a cabal of neoconservatives, who by virtue of their political skill and ruthless disregard for truth were able to "manipulate the preferences, perceptions and priorities of so many other intelligent people..." who otherwise would never have supported the Iraq war. Frank Harvey painstakingly reconstructs the decision process in 2002 and documents all of the ways that the Bush administration took steps contrary to the "neoconism" thesis -- eg., working through the United Nations and seeking Congressional authorization rather than adopting the unilateralist/executive-only approach many Iraq hawks were urging. (Leffler makes similar points in his lecture). Harvey goes on to make an intriguing case that had Al Gore won the election in 2000, he would have likely authorized the Iraq war just as Bush did. Harvey has not fully convinced me of the latter, but he usefully rebuts much sloppy mythologizing about Gore's foreign policy views, documenting how Gore was, in fact, the most hawkish of officials on Iraq in the Clinton administration. At a minimum, Harvey proves that the Iraq war owed more to the Clinton perspective than it did to then-candidate George W. Bush's worldview as expressed during the 2000 campaign. The neoconism myth serves a politically useful function of fixing all blame on a specific group of Republicans, but, as Harvey shows, the truth is not quite so simplistic.
5. Bush "lied" in making the case for war. I have addressed this myth before. It is a staple of the anti-Iraq/anti-Bush commentary -- and not just of the pseudonymous trolls in blog comment sections. John Mearsheimer, one of the most influential security studies academics, has written a book built around the claim that leaders regularly lie and that Bush in particular lied about Iraq. Mearsheimer claims "four key lies," each one carefully rebutted by Mel Leffler.
When one examines the historical record more fairly, as Leffler does, the "lying" myth collapses. This doesn't absolve the Bush administration of blame, but it does mean that those who allege "lying" are themselves as mistaken as are the targets of their critique.
All of these myths add up to the uber-myth: That the arguments made in favor of the Iraq war were all wrong and the arguments made against the Iraq war were all right. Sometimes this is recast as "those who supported the Iraq war were always wrong and those who opposed the Iraq war were always right." Of course, many of the arguments made in favor of the Iraq war were wrong. Hussein had not yet made by 2002 the progress in reviving his WMD programs that most intelligence services thought he had made. Many specific claims about specific WMD programs turned out to be not true.
On the other hand, many of the arguments made by those who opposed the Iraq war turned out not to be correct, either. For instance, Steve Walt cites favorably a New York Times advertisement paid for by a group of academics (virtually all of whom I consider to be friends, by the way). Some of their arguments were prescient, more prescient than the contrary claims by war supporters -- the warning about the need to occupy Iraq for many years, for example -- but others not so much. It turns out, for instance, that there is considerable evidence of Iraq-al Qaeda overtures and attempted coordination, precisely what the Bush administration worried about. Likewise, contrary to what the war critics warned, neither Iraq's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons nor their skill at urban warfare posed much of an obstacle to the invasion -- of course, insurgency tactics such as urban warfare did pose serious obstacles to the occupation and reconstruction phase of the conflict.
Moreover, Walt and the others he cites favorably almost to a person opposed the surge in 2007, and while some of them now admit that they were wrong about this others still cling to the thoroughly rebutted view that the surge was irrelevant to the change in Iraq's security trajectory. (Ironically, the debate over the surge may be where the grip of mythology lingers the longest. See how Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in an otherwise sensible piece of myth-busting, makes the error of claiming that it is a myth to believe that the surge worked. I have already answered the argument put forward by Chandrasekaran and others and so won't take the time to do it again.)
The point is not that Walt and others were fools or crazy to doubt that the surge would work -- on the contrary, they were squarely within the mainstream of conventional wisdom at the time. Rather, the point is that neither side in the Iraq debate has had a monopoly on wisdom.
I know I haven't had a monopoly on wisdom either and, indeed, my own personal views on Iraq have evolved over time. I opposed putting the Iraq issue on the front-burner in the 2001-2002 time frame and refused to sign a petition arguing for that because I thought the higher priority involved chasing AQ out of ungoverned areas. When the Bush administration did put the Iraq issue on the front-burner over the summer of 2002, I found the arguments of Bush opponents to be over-drawn and unconvincing -- in particular, the anti-Bush position seemed not to take seriously enough the fact that the U.N. inspections regime had collapsed nor that the sanctions regime was in the process of collapsing -- and so I found myself often critiquing the critics. I found the Bush argument that Hussein was gaming the sanctions and poised to redouble his WMD efforts when the sanctions finally collapsed to be a more plausible account of where things were heading absent a confrontation (and as we now know from the interviews with Hussein after his capture that was exactly what he was planning to do).
However, as the march to war accelerated in February 2003, I was one of those who recommended to the administration that the deadline be extended in the hopes of getting yet another UNSC resolution, one that would provide a united international front at the outset of the war. The administration rejected that course, and, in retrospect, I doubt whether what I was calling for was achievable.
Since the war started, I have had my fair share of criticisms for how the war has been handled, but I have always supported the position that having invaded, we now had to succeed. I supported the surge, and I opposed the Obama administration's decision to walk away from the commitment for a small stay-behind force that would be a makeweight in internal and regional balances of power.
I feel more confident about the positions I took on Iraq later in the war than the ones at the outset. But more importantly, I am increasingly confident that the judgment of history will be more nuanced and less simplistic than the judgment of contemporary critics of the war. And, hopefully, less contaminated by myth.
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President Obama's second inaugural address contained an admirable homage to some of the greatest heroes of civil and political rights. We are treated to a vision of the United States that is rooted in the ideals those heroes struggled to achieve. And we celebrate their victory, even if we are not all in agreement about how much progress has been made or how much remains to be done. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, America achieved what has made it truly "the last best hope of the Earth" as Lincoln put it and Reagan reiterated. The stains of second-class citizenship and institutionalized prejudice have been removed. There is always more to do to help people take greater advantage of their birthright of freedom, but the birthright is enshrined in law in a country where law rules, not men -- in theory and most of the time in practice.
But such is not the case in many countries of the world, a world where the United States must exist and because of its size and influence, lead. Fecklessness and timidity disguised as false humility won't do; we are expected to lead whether we are asked to or want to. So given this, we as citizens have a right and even a duty, I think, to ask if during the next four years the administration will base U.S. foreign policy on those same ideals. After all, if the character and reputation we have and want to keep is one of a beacon of democracy and a friend to it everywhere, then surely we are obligated to put actions to our words. The president made clear yesterday that as far as his domestic agenda is concerned, he will continue to insist on his understanding of what it means to be a country founded upon the ideals of freedom and equality, and that will mean a larger government and more spending on entitlements with the costs born by overburdened taxpayers and by debt. I don't agree with that approach, but that's not germane to this post. But what of his foreign policy agenda? Shouldn't he also in these matters take care to promote the ideals that he believes make us a great nation? Shouldn't we, can't we, do more than we have done in the last four years to stand by democrats in their struggles, wherever they may be found?
I have been saddened and even alarmed to look over the last four years of the Obama administration's policies and see that support for democracy in word and deed has often been pushed aside to make room for withdrawal and accommodation. For example, one of the greatest threats to liberty and equality the world over are the radical Islamic terrorists and their supporters and funders, but the president and his highest officials, while taking victory laps over bin Laden's takedown by Seal Team 6, campaigned as though this was a diminishing problem and that al Qaeda had been "decimated." The truth is that even as the campaign was winding down Benghazi exposed their assertions as flawed. We know that al Qaeda is not only still powerful but thriving in North Africa and beyond. We stand by as the French take the lead in saving Mali, literally, from an al Qaeda takeover. That's right, the French. But then France has never been slow to assert itself where national interests are at stake. We could take a lesson from them.
And there are other examples where the administration has not taken care to secure our interests, such as its refusal to treat Russia as a bad actor where democracy is concerned and a supporter of those who share its authoritarian bent. Or Venezuela, where a dictator has been allowed to ruin his country, try to ruin others in the region and coddle and comfort our worst enemies with little resistance from us.
Let me tie two concepts together that I have been discussing and make this assertion: support for democracy is in our national interest. I'm glad the president said so yesterday in his second inaugural address. I just wish he'd say it more often and do something more concrete about it in the next four years.
A nation like ours cannot do other than promote democracy and support democrats. It is in our DNA and it is the only way our foreign policy can make sense. Our failure to do so from time to time is the exception that proves the rule. Why else is it noteworthy when we fail to do so? It is one of the reasons we are an exceptional nation.
Support for democracy and democrats means giving voice to our ideals and to take action to support those who share our ideals. We should never fail to talk about liberty and rights with all states who deny them to their citizens. Freedom House's latest report is a useful guide for knowing how to address these issues and with which countries. And we should take action, such as providing resources of various kinds to those men and women who ask for our help. Some of them are so oppressed that they need succor just to go on living; some need support because they are in a position to actually change their country for the better. Think of it as supporting both "hope and change."
Notice I said nothing about imposing democracy or nation-building; these are canards used by those who opposed the Iraq war or who deny our leadership role by hiding behind "state sovereignty" claims. In my years as a government official we never once imposed democracy on any country; it can't be done. What we did, what the United Nations and Europe and the Japanese and the Indians and many others have done, is to provide aid to people in dictatorships or failing states who asked for our help. Sometimes they are the majority of a country; sometimes they are the minority. Pointing out the objections of a dictator who murders and abuses his people and who is very often a disturber of the peace of his region or the world provides no excuse to deny help to his victims when we can. What legitimacy does such a dictator have to object to his would-be slaves asking free peoples to help them be free? By what right does he block the free world from trying to encourage the establishment of more free states, which is in their interest?
A world made up mostly of states where rights are respected and the law rules is surely in our interests as these states are less likely to be in serious conflict with states like them. It might take years or generations, but we should try, nonetheless.
And there are two more reasons to try. First, dictators vexed by dissidents at home are weakened. It is in our interests to make tyrants as miserable as we can; we have plenty of resources and agencies who can do this work. History has many lessons on this. It is a shame so many oppressors and enemies of freedom feel more secure today to work their wicked will at home and abroad than four years ago, especially all those whose behavior we can influence. Second, it makes no sense to hope for the day when a tyrant falls but to have done nothing to help the lovers of freedom be ready to take over. We learned a hard lesson in Egypt: Mubarak spent 30 years squelching the democratic opposition and thereby fulfilling his own prophecy that "it's me or the Brotherhood." We could have done more in Egypt.
I would like to take the president at his word yesterday when he made his single comment about supporting freedom around the world. I did not expect his second inaugural address to be like President George W. Bush's, but I'm glad at least that he mentioned it. And I will hope that he does more. There are many fine people both in the ranks of the political appointees and in the foreign and civil services who want to help democrats around the world, even if there are many who do not. He's the boss, he can have his way if he'll lead. He has an army ready to implement good programs that directly support -- dare I say it -- a freedom agenda.
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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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Danielle Pletka writes that Republicans and Democrats are divided on foreign policy most fundamentally by values. Republicans believe in "a moral imperative for U.S. power in the world" which leads them to support the growth of democracy worldwide, implying that Democrats do not. Nonsense. Democratic presidents have been so idealistic and fervent in their pursuit of a moral foreign policy that they gave us a name for it (Wilsonianism), a doctrine (Truman), and a hapless precedent for how not to do it (Carter).
Republicans do a disservice when they try to make promoting democracy a partisan issue. It is much safer to recognize the broad bipartisan consensus that has existed at least since the McKinley administration that American power should tilt the playing field of history towards freedom.
True, some Democrats began to betray their century-old heritage by overreacting to Iraq. Barack Obama sounded some vaguely realpolitik-y notes in his campaign and his first year in office. But Democratic realism died a silent and unmourned death in the sands of Libya. Obama and his advisors couldn't resist the opportunity to cleanse America's image by undertaking a pure humanitarian mission unsullied by the least connection with strategic interests. We are now safely united again in a grand strategy of spreading the democratic peace.
The real split between the parties is in deciding how, when, where, and why to foster democracy abroad, in answer to which the Obama administration has been incoherent and inconsistent. The Republican response -- Pletka's included -- so far, is to call for leadership and money, neither of which constitutes a strategy. Calling for more defense spending doesn't fit the bill unless we explain what that spending is for and what interests will go unsecured if we fail to allocate the money. And calling for more "leadership" is equally void of meaning unless we explain where we are going and why we think America -- and the world -- should follow.
We don't have to have grand philosophical debates. We can pick specific issues that illustrate the parties' differences and hammer on them relentlessly. I know I sound like a broken record, but we could start by tackling head-on the biggest crisis the United States is currently engaged in that top American officials are resolutely ignoring: not Syria, but Afghanistan.
Just because the average voter stopped paying attention years ago, and elected officials followed suit soon after, does not mean the United States no longer has interests there. Democrats performed an astonishing and shameful about-face between 2008, when it unanimously affirmed it as the good war to which we absolutely must devote more resources right now, and 2010, when their president led the way by no longer believing the war was winnable despite clear evidence to the contrary, and announced an intention to withdraw our forces without specifying how we will mitigate the obvious damage to American interests that will result from allowing terrorists to regain safe-haven in a large swathe of South Asia.
Mitt Romney missed a large and obvious opportunity to differentiate himself from the president by going on the attack on Afghanistan. Republicans can and should be out front explaining what our interests are and how we can win. Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates was absolutely right when he insisted that the Pentagon focus on the wars we were fighting rather than the hypothetical wars of the future. That is still true. If Republicans want to win back their foreign-policy credentials, they should stop their scripted apoplexy over Syria, Iran, and China and say something intelligent and relevant about the war in which American troops are still dying. That's the least we owe our soldiers.
Paul D. Miller is an assistant professor of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. He previously served as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council staff from 2007 through 2009. The views expressed here are his own.
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 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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In Bangkok on November 18 President Obama explained that it was "no accident" that he chose Asia for his first overseas trip after winning re-election. Well, actually, it was. The East Asia Summit, which the president attended in Phnom Penh just before Thanksgiving, had been on the calendar for some time. That it happened to fall on a date just after the U.S. election was perhaps propitious, but it was not because of presidential design.
The president's hyperbole in Bangkok is somewhat typical of the rhetoric surrounding the "pivot" to Asia. This same hyperbole caused trouble with European and Middle East allies, who did not want to be pivoted away from, and with China, which did not understand why the president was claiming credit for a series of seemingly minor but somehow nefariously connected defense decisions like transferring a few thousand Marines from Okinawa to Darwin, Australia.
Hyperbole aside, though, the president can claim credit for something quite substantive with this trip: He has now established that future American presidents will regularly attend two annual summits in Asia each year, once for APEC and once for the ASEAN-centered East Asia Summit. Clinton, meanwhile, has become the first secretary of state to score a perfect attendance record at the ASEAN Regional Forum of foreign ministers. While these meetings can appear dreadfully boring on the surface, they are becoming intensely important behind the scenes as Beijing attempts to assert its own agenda on the region. When the United States is there, the smaller countries usually take heart. In Phnom Penh, China pressured the Cambodian hosts to cut-off discussions on the South China Sea, but with the American president watching, the Philippines and other countries continued raising their legitimate concerns about Beijing's heavy-handed approach to the region's territorial disputes. Woody Allen argued that 9/10ths of success in life is just showing up -- an appropriate maxim for U.S. diplomacy in Asia and one Obama and Clinton have followed.
The president also did fairly well in Burma and Cambodia, two countries with deeply troubling human rights records. I was worried that he would downplay these concerns and instead focus on switching two erstwhile Chinese proxies over to the U.S. camp to score PR points for the pivot. The administration had already moved too fast in lifting the import ban on Burma, which only helped the crony-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. However, a White House blog on Burma policy by NSC Senior Director Samantha Powers just before the trip laid out a more balanced approach going forward that would praise President Thein Sein for his reforms, and be clear that further U.S. support depended on the heavy lifting that still remains. The president appears to have done just that (though he somehow managed repeatedly to garble Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's name, which she took stoically as always). He also did not shrink from pressing Hun Sen to halt systematic repression and violence against civil society groups and the democratic opposition in Cambodia. These were encouraging moves, given how detached the pivot has been thus far from historic American foreign policy values.
That said, the president's trip did little to answer three big questions troubling American friends and allies in Asia. First, will the fiscal cliff undercut the economic basis of American power in the Pacific or end up in defense cuts that have an equally deleterious impact on regional security? Second, will the administration move beyond its unambitious approach to trade now that the election is over and inject some energy into the Trans-Pacific Partnership? And third, will the United States go wobbly on China after the balance-of-power conscious Hillary Clinton leaves office? It is no accident our friends are asking these questions.
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I got roped into writing my debate reaction for a local newspaper, so I didn't post it on Shadow yesterday. You can read it here -- but note a correction: Rosa Brooks' title was Counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, not Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. (I referenced her article and follow-up piece in my oped because they are two of the most important and revealing items ever written by an Obama insider and should be required reading for anyone interested in the conduct of foreign policy over the past four years.)
The gist of my op-ed is pretty simple: Romney's goal evidently was to thwart the hundreds of millions of dollars of attack ads and countless attack opeds that tried to paint him as unfit to be president and especially commander-in-chief. In this debate, he wanted to show that he had a solid grasp on the issues, could set recent events in their broader strategic context, was not a war-monger, and was not so blinkered by partisanship that he would gainsay every policy Obama has followed. He was willing to draw contrasts, but he was not focused on a point-by-point critique of all of the foreign policy mistakes the Obama administration has made.
Obama pursued a very different approach, taking every opportunity to level attacks, some false, many misleading, and most rehearsed. It was a performance that his base clearly enjoyed and that seemed to win him the debate at the superficial level of who delivered more zingers suitable for replay in Jon Stewart's monologue.
Romney's approach was aimed at the undecided electorate, not at his base and definitely not at foreign policy wonks like me. In many wonkish discussions since, I and my colleagues identified numerous opportunities to critique Obama or rebut an Obama critique of him that Romney chose not to exploit. I have to assume this was a deliberate strategy and while it is not the approach I would have taken, I also concede that he has a lot more experience running for president than I do. Certainly the CNN poll of debate viewers, which had a clear majority saying Romney has passed the commander-in-chief test, suggests that his performance accomplished something important.
Before the official debate, I moderated a surrogate debate at Duke between Governor Howard Dean and former Bush Senior Advisor Karl Rove. Our debate prefigured some of the subsequent discussion -- though ours had much greater infotainment value! -- and also reached a similar conclusion about the overall state of the race. Both Dean and Rove said the race was exceptionally tight, but each called it for their side. Dean thought it was possible Obama would lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College. Rove thought it would come down to a very close Romney victory in Ohio.
In an election that close, perhaps even the slightest tactical calculation will have proven decisive. If Obama loses overall because he loses Virginia narrowly, I wonder if he will regret the snarky and misleading zinger he delivered about the size of the Navy -- a crack that likely appealed to Jon Stewart's audience, but not to the Virginia communities that understand how Obama's cuts to the Navy have strained the force and undercut his pivot to Asia. If Romney loses narrowly, I wonder if he will regret not calling the president out for the many misleading claims he made.
Is it possible that a debate on foreign policy will matter that much in election when most of the public says the domestic economy is their top priority?
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I've periodically commented here at Shadow Government on the issue of religious freedom, especially in the context of the Arab Awakening and the Obama administration's relatively weak commitment to an effective international religious freedom policy. On that note, Shadow readers might be interested in an article I've just written here for Policy Review, taking a deeper look at the potential connection between international religious freedom and national security.
Religious freedom is one of those issues that few leaders in the American national security community would actually oppose (after all it is one of our nation's founding principles), but few are willing to make it a foreign policy priority because it is often regarded as a merely humanitarian issue of little if any strategic consequence. In the article I explore some possible ways that religious freedom might actually be related to other strategic priorities such as peace and stability, and ways that religious freedom violations might actually be indicators of potential security threats. This leads to my provisional conclusion that "There is not a single nation in the world that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States." In turn, I suggest ways that making international religious freedom more of a policy priority can potentially help diagnose, ameliorate, and even prevent emerging security concerns.
This is admittedly just an initial exploration, and my conclusions are both tentative and speculative. At a minimum I hope it encourages deeper and more sustained research into this area (PhD students take note: This could make for an interesting dissertation topic). And for the policy community, as I've said before I hope that religious liberty advocates will consider whether and why this issue might have strategic relevance beyond its innate moral appeal. As the broader Middle East faces an uncertain future and continues to be convulsed by competing visions that largely fall along the fault lines of religious intolerance and religious tolerance, an effective religious freedom policy will be a strategic necessity for the next four years -- regardless of which presidential candidate wins on November 6.
Jimmy Carter's capacity to astound continues to know no bounds. Last Friday, presiding over an event at his eponymous organization, the former president allowed how Hugo Chávez's election process in Venezuela is "the best in the world."
Well, apparently he isn't reading much on the run up to Venezuela's October 7 presidential election, because such an affirmation flies in the face of nearly every report in recent weeks, which have overwhelmingly concluded it has been a fundamentally unfair process. (A few examples are here, here, and here.)
To be charitable, Carter may have been referring to the technical procedures on election day to guard against fraud, but, still, that is more a testament to the skill of the Chávez-dominated Venezuelan electoral council in convincing credulous foreign visitors on the supposed integrity of their system. In any case, focusing on voting machines on election day is missing the forest for the trees.
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 their votes, Chávez has used every tactic, above-board and underhanded, to smother the candidacy of former governor Henrique Capriles. It is a measure of Capriles' tenacity that not only is he still standing, but that he is giving Chávez all he can handle.
Yet, while Capriles's surging candidacy certainly bodes well for the preservation of some semblance of democracy in Venezuela (not to mention the prospects of a Chávez-less Venezuela), it is also heightening concerns that should Chávez come to believe he is losing on election day, he will unleash a wave of violence targeting the opposition.
In a recent 2,400-word exposé, Reuters reported on what are known in Venezuela as "colectivos," radical (and armed) neighborhood groups committed to outwardly defending Chávez's political project. They are unaccountable to any authority, acting above the law and with impunity. According to Reuters,
"In the eyes of critics, the groups are bandana-clad killers and vigilantes, the shock troops of the president's self-styled revolution. They have become more high-profile in the last four years, and some have been blamed for attacks on people they are said to perceive as enemies of Chavez.
"With a presidential election looming on October 7, opposition members fear the colectivos will turn to violence if challenger Henrique Capriles defies the polls and wins."
Moreover, in a second recent report, the Spanish newspaper ABC ran a front-page story -- ironically, published the day after Jimmy Carter's sanguine comments -- based on internal government documents revealing plans for even more select units of civilian "rapid mobilization networks" to be deployed on election day. According to ABC, these specially trained units -- expressly civilian to give the government plausible deniability in the event of lethal action - are tasked with "aborting opposition rallies before these can take shape, 'detection of opposition leaders, organization of street protests and resistance, and territorial control."
Civil society leaders have been sufficiently alarmed by these reports to write a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon apprising him of growing tensions in the country due to Chávez's inflammatory rhetoric promising "civil war" if he does not win. It also requested that member states express their concerns to the Chávez government and be vigilant that their election comports with international standards. Now, it is unlikely that any will express their concerns to Hugo Chávez, but the Obama administration does not have to remain silent. Yes, it has avoided microphone diplomacy with the Venezuelan caudillo, just as the Bush administration did. But there is an important difference: The Bush administration did indeed speak out when it concerned matters of high principle. This is such an occasion. Jimmy Carter may have gotten it wrong, as he is wont to do, but there is no reason President Obama has to get it wrong as well.
ANDREW ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday in Washington, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi stood in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to accept the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. The award had been waiting for Suu Kyi since 2008, when House and Senate leaders initiated legislation "in recognition of her courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, nonviolence, human rights, and democracy in Burma" and President George W. Bush signed it into law.
Still under house arrest in 2008, Suu Kyi chose not to accept the award in absentia. Instead, thinking optimistically, she decided to look forward to the day when she could receive it in person. And indeed she finally did.
A notable roster of well wishers -- including House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator John McCain, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and others -- went to the podium to pay tribute to Suu Kyi's courage and commitment to a free and democratic Burma. It was a welcome and increasingly rare display in Washington of bipartisan foreign policy consensus, something that has waned significantly since the end of the Cold War.
For the program's invocation, the Reverend Patrick Conroy, S.J., Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, thanked God for Suu Kyi, calling her a "heroic witness to the dignity of all people." Amen.
Senator McCain, verging on tears, recalled first meeting Suu Kyi 15 years ago and being amazed that this "picture of gentleness and serenity" could be the same "implacable lady" who had so befuddled the men of Burma's military-backed regime.
Mrs. Bush hailed Suu Kyi as "the mother of her country" and recognized her moral clarity and strength. "One of the most repressive governments on earth attempted to isolate and silence one woman," she said. "It must have seemed an easy task. Instead, the regime encountered an immovable object -- and its legitimacy broke against her character."
Secretary Clinton turned to Suu Kyi with a big smile and marveled: "We knew at some point that change would have to come...It's almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are in the Rotunda of our Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy, as an elected member of parliament." Applause ensued.
Suu Kyi graciously accepted the honor and then implored: "Please use your liberty to promote ours." She also issued a call to support not just the people of Burma but people "everywhere else in the world where freedom is still a dream."
In that moment, it was almost impossible not to think about the late Vaclav Havel, the former dissident turned head of state who helped lead Czechoslovakia from tyranny into freedom. Not satisfied with the fruits of his labors at home, President Havel made it his mission to support those who were still seeking freedom from oppression, including Aung San Suu Kyi. And now we see this remarkable woman using her nascent freedoms to pay it forward, just as Havel did, and raising up the plight of freedom seekers beyond her country's borders.
Against this momentous backdrop, it is important to acknowledge the progress Burma has made in such a short time. It is equally important to recognize the enormous task that lies ahead.
In The Case for Democracy, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky is unambiguous about the meaning of freedom. For him, the test is simple:
Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it's a fear society.
In Burma, a corrupt and brutal military regime failed the "town square test" with impunity for nearly 50 years. Today, it's too soon to say the people of Burma are free, but we're cautiously optimistic about the future.
Since Suu Ky's release from house arrest in 2010 and the emergence of a civilian-led government in 2011, Burma has experienced important openings. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released. Media censorship has been curbed. 2,000 individuals have been removed from the government's notorious political blacklist. Labor unions have been legalized. And Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow National League for Democracy members have stood for parliamentary elections, openly campaigning across the country and sweeping 43 of the 44 seats they contested earlier this year.
Nevertheless, hundreds of political prisoners still sit in Burma's jails. The media now submit copies of their work to government censors after publication, rather than before. Ethnic conflict continues to claim lives. The executive has yet to submit to democratic elections. And constitutional reform is sorely needed.
While confident that her country can overcome these and other obstacles to a free society, Aung San Suu Kyi recognizes that "until the army comes out clearly and consistently in support of the democratic process, we cannot say that it's irreversible." Let us hope that day comes sooner than anyone expects, just as Suu Kyi's historic visit to America came this week.
James K. Glassman is former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. Amanda Schnetzer is the Bush Institute's Director of Human Freedom.
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Juan Forero's article, "Latin America's New Authoritarians," in the Washington Post on Monday is in many ways an excellent piece. It sheds light on the kinds of authoritarian regimes that have come into being in the region over the last decade or so. But in his reporting and in some of the experts he quotes, there is a use of language that shies away from calling these regimes exactly what they are: undemocratic, dictatorial, and arguably, tyrannical. In several places in the article these new regimes are contrasted with the former Latin American dictatorships (presumably of Pinochet, the Argentine junta, and others), leaving readers to draw the inference that the new forms are worrying but not as bad as the old forms. It is as though there is a form of authoritarianism that is obviously bad and must be dealt with, and then a new form that should cause us concern, but is not yet the threat or the evil that the old form was.
As an academic and former official at USAID in charge of programs that supported democrats around the world, I find this kind of talk and the implications it leaves troubling. We cannot support democracy and the brave people who seek our help if we quibble about who is and who is not "really" a dictator. While both diplomats and political scientists have to be subtle and use nuance sometimes, fundamentally we should be clear in terms of the objectives our interests compel us to work towards. So even to suggest that Hugo Chavez is somehow better than Pinochet is missing the point -- and risks giving aid and comfort to him and causing despair for his democratic opposition.
As a congressional staffer in the late 1990s when Chavez was coming to power, I agreed with a number of congressmen and staff who noted that the general attitude in the U.S. government was unrealistic when it came to who Chavez was and what he intended. We were right.
We are now in the 13th year of "Bolivarian democracy" in the form of Hugo Chavez's Venezuelan regime. Over the years, a few more have joined him (with his aid) in Latin America by creating their own modified "democracies." Correa's Ecuador, Morales's Bolivia, and Ortega's Nicaragua all count as non-democratic states in my view if we are trying to be honest about the essence of democracy. (We dodged a bullet with Lugo's Paraguay and Humala's Peru since they have proved to be too weak -- or smart -- to go full-on Chavez.) It is worth noting that this is not a region-bound phenomenon; witness Putin's "controlled democracy." Nor is it time-bound. Robespierre's French republic was not a democratic state as I understand the term when the guillotine was the state symbol and when more liberty caps than powdered wigs adorned the heads plopping into the basket. Dictators have been putting adjectives in front of their use of the term democracy to dress up their authoritarian regimes for a long time. Thank you Jean-Jacque Rousseau, among others.
But we should be clear: Such regimes as Chavez's are an offense to the idea of democracy (constitutional republicanism, if you will) and mushy linguistic constructs and semantics are an offense to the English language -- or any other language in which it is written that a regime is an "authoritarian democracy," a "people's democracy" or a "revolutionary democracy." If you have to modify it, it isn't really a democracy. In Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, the citizens simply do not live under democracy. They are not living in a constitutional republic. Yes, there are constitutions, yes, there are regular elections according to codified rules (most of the time). But much intervenes that is intimidating, repressive, and sometimes violent, so much so that the meaning of democracy is voided.
Here is a listing of the sins against democracy that occur in each of these states (as is the case in Russia, it is worth noting):
Intimidation of voters by using technology to nullify the secret ballot and to tie a person's vote to her employment.
Intimidation of the press by blackmail, repressive regulation, forced bankruptcy, and unfair prosecution.
Intimidation of business people by forcing them to serve the state's interests or lose their enterprises, thus putting the economic well-being of many citizens solely in the hands of the regime.
Manipulation of electoral law and use of the state's purse to provide the regime with a compliant legislature.
And finally, what might well be the worst tactic of all, intimidation of judges and the judicial branch. Democracy is not simply about people being allowed to vote, which is why I earlier referred to constitutional republicanism. It is about individuals being treated as citizens who live under law, not the rule of men. For that to occur, the law must be inviolate and the judges must be free to make impartial rulings without having to prefer the regime's interests. When the judges are intimidated into compliance, or simply removed and replaced with party hacks, the safeguard of democracy is gone, and I would argue, so is democracy in all but name.
Those oppressed by the forgoing means number in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. So what if in some cases they aren't poor? They are citizens, and they deserve all the rights provided in a democracy.
Just because there are currently few or no desaparecidos or violent suppressions in South America does not mean there is no dictatorship à la Pinochet or the Argentine junta. Just because Chavez or Morales have killed fewer people when suppressing protests than the authoritarians of the 70's and 80's did does not mean they are not running a dictatorship. Just because Ortega has not assassinated opposition figures or declared martial law does not mean he has not just as effectively silenced his opposition. He gets no laurels for having forced them to withdraw from politics -- or to Miami.
As a political scientist, I can appreciate the need to be as descriptive as possible and to define terms with granularity. As one who was formerly responsible for supporting U.S. diplomacy as a development official, I can appreciate that sometimes nuanced language in formal settings is appropriate. But U.S. policymakers (and the Europeans and a growing number of other countries) don't have the luxury of being academic about their work if they expect to clearly articulate that our interests include a world with more real democracies and prospering free peoples. Mr. Feroro is right to point out that the U.S. and the Brazilians, to name two, could do more regarding the new authoritarians. But no one who purports to promote democracy and to support democrats around the world should kid himself: If policy is founded on a muddled view of what democracy is and isn't, then democracy and democrats around the world will suffer. Let us settle at the outset that democracy means real freedom, not pretended freedom, and craft our policy that way.
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?
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
With parliamentary and presidential elections in the rear-view mirror, attention turns to the road ahead. Timor-Leste faces too many challenges to list here but following are a few of the most salient confronting the new parliament and prime minister.
Land reform: The country's economic obstacles are practically innumerable, but nothing is as fundamental to long-term development as reforming land ownership laws. Simply put, without reform, a free-market, voluntary exchange economy cannot take hold, an entrepreneurial class will not emerge, private sector wealth creation stands no chance, and Timorese won't see greater availability of affordable goods, products and services.
The current antiquated system is a throw-back to colonial times. By keeping real estate in a proverbial no-man's land, it's removed from the people who can put it to productive use for the benefit of themselves and society. Failure of the previous government to restore private property rights is one of the biggest disappointments in 10 years of independence. The new parliament and prime minister have the opportunity to correct a mistake that, left unchecked, will keep Timorese dependent on government (domestic or foreign) aid, impoverished or both.
Delivery on party platforms: Just after polls opened in Maubisse, an elderly couple talked about their frustration over broken campaign promises. I heard more of the same throughout the day. At 74 percent in the parliamentary election and 78 percent in the presidential, turnout is high. But it will quickly wane if Timorese don't see a correlation between platforms of the winners and changes, even if only incremental, on the ground.
Timor-Leste's challenges are obviously large and across-the-board. For the political parties and elected officials, it raises two questions. Can they resist the temptation to over promise on goals they can't reasonably achieve? And can they make short-term gains to give voters confidence that the electoral process produces accountability in the elected?
Democratic consolidation: Older voters who lived through colonization, invasion and occupation were forthright in talking about their right and duty to vote. Young people also turned out in large numbers amid signs that democratic traditions are taking root in younger generations. But disillusionment can emerge quickly. Corruption allegations surrounding the energy fund or growth of a glaring income gap like that seen in some Latin countries, among other issues, hold great potential to reverse confidence in representative government and the process that produces it. Consolidating democratic gains is crucial the next few years.
Managing the UN exit: Barring unforeseen circumstances, the UN mission is winding down. The UN exit, expected by the end of 2012, means the loss of jobs and aid dollars. Looming just as large is transfer of responsibility for security and stability to the new government.
Brian C. Keeter was a volunteer Timor-Leste election observer for the International Republican Institute and is providing a series of posts about the July 7th parliamentary elections. He worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Bush administration and is now director of public affairs at Auburn University.
Brian C. Keeter
This is the second in a series of posts on Timor-Leste’s July 7 parliamentary elections.
It's great to see a vibrant democracy at work.
In Timor-Leste, political parties are wrapping up active, passionate campaigns as the July 7th parliamentary elections fast approach.
Young political activists are particularly enthusiastic. FRETILIN's final campaign rally in the capitol of Dili was highly visible, raucous and in some ways resembled the atmosphere of World Cup soccer -- painted faces, party flags worn like capes, slogans shouted in unison, loads of happy supporters driving city streets in flat-bed trucks, vans and motorcycles waving banners and singing.
FRETILIN, or the Revolutionary Front for Timor-Leste Independence, is the largest and considered the most organized of the 18 parties and three coalitions facing voters. Xanana Gusmao leads the other major party, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor-Leste, or CNRT. Like many current political leaders and candidates, Gusmao is one of the heroes of Timor-Leste's long struggle for independence.
FRETILIN and CNRT together are expected to garner the most support in proportional, party list voting for the 65-seat unicameral Parliament. But since neither party is likely to gain enough votes for a governing majority, the smaller but still influential Democratic Party may serve as "king maker," deciding with whom to join to form a coalition government.
Timor-Leste's road to freedom has been anything but easy. When Portuguese colonization ended in 1975, the country suffered brutal Indonesian occupation. As many as 250,000 Timorese, roughly 25 percent of the population, lost their lives.
In August of 1999, under UN supervision, an overwhelming majority of Timorese, 78 percent, spoke loud and clear in favor of self-governance and the right to determine their own future.
Indonesian assurances to provide security in the independence referendum were unmet. Militias loyal to Indonesia destroyed Timorese infrastructure, razed homes, and conducted random acts of violence and abuse. It's estimated that 100 percent of the country's electrical grid was rendered useless and 85 percent of buildings burned. In 2012, within a block of my hotel, I see the remaining evidence of this scorched earth policy.
An Australian-led peacekeeping force entered the country later in 1999 to end the violence and, ultimately, secure Timor-Leste independence. The upcoming parliamentary vote is the country's third round of elections since 2002 when it became the first new nation of the 21st Century.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) is observing the voting process in each of Timor-Leste's 13 districts. IRI was the first non-governmental organization to work in Timor-Leste with political parties, beginning in 2000.
IRI delegation leader Frank Wisner noted that Timor-Leste is "a country absolutely determined to create its own democratic traditions."
A new parliament will face a wave of challenges -- high unemployment, inadequate roads, and a lack of economic diversity, among many others. By all accounts, Timorese are committed to tackling these problems and fulfilling their country's hopes and dreams at the ballot box.
Brian C. Keeter is a volunteer Timor-Leste election observer for the International Republican Institute and will provide a series of posts about the July 7 parliamentary elections. He worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Bush administration and is now director of public affairs at Auburn University.
Brian C. Keeter
It's official: The Muslim Brotherhood rules Egypt. After a tense several months in which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces attempted several times to reassert control over the levers of power, Egypt's electoral council today announced that Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, has been elected president of Egypt.
The SCAF had assured American interlocutors during the voting that they intend to swiftly hand over power to whomsoever was elected. But they also asserted a decree making themselves arbiters of the yet-to-be-written constitution and wielders of parliamentary powers until a new parliament can be elected (Egyptian courts had dismissed parliament last week, worrying many of collusion between the military and judiciary).
It is illustrative of the tumult Egypt has experienced since protests drove Hosni Mubarak from power that electing an Islamist president seems a less worrisome outcome than the election of a secular alternative that represents the corrupt "deep state" that Mubarak and his military cabal kept Egypt submerged under for 30 years.
Mubarak argued that without his strong hand, jihadist radicals would take over Egypt. American administrations of both parties agreed with him, or at least were fearful enough we did precious little to attenuate his grip. A speech on the inevitability of democracy here, some minor funding of political party organization there...but neither Republicans nor Democrats redeemed our universal values in Egypt.
Presidents of either party were unwilling to risk unwelcome change in Egypt of the kind elections brought in Palestine, where a party that brought violence into politics was voted into power. But the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is not Hamas in Gaza. Even in Gaza, Hamas has lost significant public support because of its incapacity to govern. The desire for safe streets, good schools, and functioning sewer systems is the true universality on which democracy attenuates extremism.
Both in Gaza and in Egypt, Islamist parties are being held accountable, not just for ideology but for governance. This is the basis for the drop in popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after their victory in the parliamentary elections last spring. Egyptian voters were put off by their ineffectualness, by their mendacity in committing to coalition governance then taking power on their own when it proved possible, by their claiming they would not run a presidential candidate since they controlled parliament and then entering a candidate in the presidential sweepstakes.
Voters did question their motives, take them to task for their reversals. A huge part of the appeal of Brotherhood candidates in Egypt has been their opposition during the Mubarak years. They seem to have clean hands, and that is an enormous political advantage as Egypt shakes off the tawdry hold of Mubarak's spoils system. It appears to have been enough to carry the presidential election, a stunning rebuke of the "secular" military.
There is much to be concerned about with the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. They have been staunchly anti-American. They intend to reform the basis of society with Koranic law as its foundation. They are profoundly uncomfortable with Western mores, especially where the rights of women and religious minorities are concerned.
But this does not mean Egypt's Muslim Brothers will be anti-democratic. In fact, they proved the more democratic force than SCAF since Mubarak's overthrow. There is little sign yet that they will refuse to play by the rules -- SCAF was more likely to bring about "one man, one vote, one time" than the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt's transition is disconcertingly messy. Both the process and the victors raise a serious question about how worried Americans should be about Egyptians' commitment to democracy. But with the advocates of representative government is still where we should place our bets, and offer our assistance.
Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images
The Organization of American States (OAS) just held its 42nd general assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia. During the general assembly, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, in a renewed attack against freedom of the press, sought to block the release the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' (IACHR) report of press freedom in the Americas.
Freedom of speech is not the only right under fire from Ecuador's leader. For years, Rafael Correa has used all available government resources to concentrate governmental power in his hands. The result has been to hide crimes committed by him or his inner circle. Every time he attacks a journalist, nationalizes a TV station, or leaves unpunished people engaged in drug trafficking, Correa does so knowing that he manipulates the judicial system and intimidates his country's media.
Astoundingly, not long ago Correa said this on television: "The president of therRepublic is not only the head of the executive, but the head of all the Ecuadorian state, and the Ecuadorian state is the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, the electoral system, the state comptroller... [and every other major function of the government]." Correa's strategy has been described by Ecuadorian constitutional lawyers as a "de facto coup d'état."
As an example, in May 2011, President Correa called for a referendum to restructure the Supreme Court. Correa's purpose was to dominate the court and the result of the referendum was the replacement of the system through which judges were appointed with a new system controlled by the president through the following mechanism: a new "judicial council" was established, composed of three members, one from the executive, one from congress (where Correa has a majority), and a third from the comptroller's branch -- which also reports to the president.
Correa wasted no time: The new Council has already appointed all twenty-one new judges to the Supreme Court. To no one's surprise, fourteen of the new judges have been former Correa officials, relatives of current cabinet ministers, or peopble involved in controversial, pro-Correa judicial decisions. One of the latter, for example, is Wilson Merino, who as a lower court judge sided with President Correa in a sham defamation lawsuit launched by Correa against the newspaper El Universo. Merino not only ruled for Correa but awarded the president $40 million dollars in "damages." This sentence was later "forgiven" by Correa due to international criticism by international press organizations and the very Inter-American Human Rights Commission that Correa now wants to silence.
As a result of his sycophantic ruling, Merino was appointed to the Supreme Court. This was only possible because Correa shamelessly manipulates the judicial appointments process. This process establishes a series of requirements, qualifications, and tests that the candidates are required to pass in order to be selected. Wilson Merino did not meet the minimum qualifications, but since the three members of the judicial appointments council respond to Correa, Merino's final score was artificially increased, giving him the necessary points for appointment to the Supreme Court, as the president wished.
Freedom-loving Ecuadoreans, however, have not remained silent. Opposition congressmen such as Andres Paez have denounced the executive's manipulation of the judicial appointments system. Congressman Paez has identified at least seven additional judges that have been appointed by similar deceit. President Correa is now openly harassing Congressman Paez due to his public accusations.
An international committee led by former Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon oversaw the appointment process. Judge Garzon is expected to release a final report shortly concerning the process' transparency and legitimacy. Several members of Ecuador's national assembly have officially advised Mr. Garzon of additional cases of fraud and manipulation.
Correa is attempting to destroy the Ecuadorian judiciary system in three steps. First, he restructured the judicial appointment system in order to control it. Second, by using his control to designate his subordinates, such as Wilson Merino, to the Supreme Court. The third step is under way, and consists of legitimizing the process internationally. The success or failure of Correa's plan depends on Mr. Garzon's forthcoming oversight report and on the international reaction to this scheme. For the sake of Ecuador's liberties, it is necessary that defenders of democracy around the world raise their voices for freedom in Ecuador and that Mr. Garzon teach Correa the difference between representative democracy and autocracy.
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
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of Defense Panetta's speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Shangri-La Dialogue has received considerable attention in the press. I was a delegate to the dialogue and was in the hall when Panetta spoke. Having had an opportunity to discuss the speech with officials from across the globe at the conference, and also to reflect upon it during a flight home that crossed half the globe, I'd like to share some thoughts.
Panetta gave a good speech and even better answers to questions from the audience. He provided a clear statement of the United States' enduring role as a Pacific power. As a native of Monterey, California, he spoke evocatively of how America has influenced, and been influenced by the Pacific. He also put more meat on the bones of the Obama administration's pivot/re-balance to Asia, noting that by 2020 the United States would deploy 60 percent of its navy in the Pacific, including six aircraft carriers and a majority of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. He also pledged to increase the number and size of exercises it conducts with allies and friends in the region.
Panetta's strong words were mirrored in the size of the U.S. delegation, the largest ever sent to the Shangri-La dialogue. The Chinese, by contrast, kept a much lower profile. For reasons still unclear, Panetta's Chinese counterpart, Minister of National Defense Liang Guanglie, decided to stay away this year after having attended last year's event.
Perhaps ironically, then, much of the discussion on the margins of the summit was about American staying power in the region. One word in particular hung over the conference like Singapore's oppressive humidity: "sequestration." Even without sequestration, however, there are real questions as to whether the Obama administration's defense program is sufficient to back its words with action.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of sea power. The Pacific is a maritime theater, and warships remain a major yardstick for measuring military strength. The size and composition of the U.S. navy is key both to assuring allies and deterring adversaries in peacetime as well as to fighting and winning the nation's wars. The Pacific is a theater where numbers matters. A ship, no matter how powerful, can only be in one place at a time.
In his speech, Panetta noted that the Obama administration has decided to retire a number of warships ahead of schedule, so that today's navy, which is already the smallest it has been since before the United States entered World War I, will get even smaller. He argued, however, that the United States would eventually replace retired ships with more modern, and more capable, combatants. That is only partially true: The upgraded Arleigh Burke-class destroyers will have more modern radar and combat systems than the Ticonderoga-class cruisers that are set to be retired. However, the Littoral Combat Ships that make up the bulk of the surface ships that the Navy is procuring are considerably less capable than the warships that are being retired.
There is, in fact, a growing gap between our commitments in Asia and our capability to protect them. It is a gap that both friends and competitors see emerging. As several colleagues and I argue in a newly released American Enterprise Institute report, the United States will need to go beyond current defense plans if it is to continue to play its historic role in the Pacific. We cannot just devote a larger slice of a smaller pie to the region. Rather, we will need new resources to modernize and expand the navy. We also need to explore new initiatives to enhance the credibility of the U.S. commitment to the region. These include working with our allies and friends to develop a coalition intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance network in the Western Pacific; expanding cooperation with our allies in undersea warfare; expanding the range of bases open to the United States; and enhancing nuclear deterrence. Unless we back our words with action, the United States will have difficulty bridging the capabilities-commitment gap.
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With last week's headlines dominated by Egypt's presidential elections, negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, and fresh atrocities in Syria, it would have been easy to miss a major development out of Iraq that in time could have equally momentous consequences for the future of the Middle East. I'm referring to the announcement that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkey have agreed -- in principle at least -- to build a series of pipelines that will allow the Kurds to export oil and gas directly to Turkey and, from there, onward to the rest of the world. The U.S. should be paying close attention.
Until now, the KRG's ability to develop its substantial energy riches has been held hostage to its dependence on export pipelines controlled by the central government in Baghdad. To get any oil to international markets -- and, in turn, to get its fair share of revenue from those sales -- the KRG has largely been at Baghdad's mercies.
Iraq's oil ministry has sought to exploit its position of strength to coerce concessions from the KRG on a long-stalled national hydrocarbons law. In particular, Baghdad has demanded veto power over exploration and development contracts that the Kurds are negotiating with international oil companies. At least 40 such contracts have already been signed over the central government's vociferous objections -- including a breakthrough agreement late last year with the global energy giant, Exxon Mobil.
Baghdad has struck back on multiple fronts. Companies signing contracts in Kurdistan have been black-balled from competing for concessions in the mega-fields of southern Iraq. Kurdistan's access to Iraq's pipelines has been restricted. And as often as not, the central government has simply withheld payments that foreign operators are owed under their Kurdish deals. The latest row over compensation led the KRG in April to suspend exports altogether, which were scheduled to be as high as 175,000 barrels per day in 2012.
The oil dispute, of course, is at the center of a much larger argument, still unresolved, about the very nature of the new Iraqi state. The Kurds, scarred by a brutal history of subjugation at the hands of Arab rulers in Baghdad, are determined that their survival -- political, economic, and, yes, physical -- will never again be subject to the central government's diktats. Yearning in their hearts for independence, the Kurds since 2003 have reluctantly bowed to geo-political realities and agreed to work toward a unified Iraq -- but only on the condition that the country evolve toward a truly federal state, with Baghdad's authority strictly limited by constitutional guarantee and the Kurdistan region's autonomy assured. Having primary say over the fate of its energy resources, and a reliable, equitable claim on Iraq's revenue stream, are for the KRG essential elements of any durable national compact.
Baghdad, needless to say, has had a much different view. Under Prime Minister Maliki, the inclination has clearly been to revert to the modern Middle Eastern norm of a strong, centralizing state, where all political, economic, and security issues of consequence are directed by the national government. From this perspective, full-blown federalism is no recipe for stability, but rather a prescription for weakness, chaos, and fragmentation. Lebanon at best; the former Yugoslavia at worst. The KRG's oil contracts are perceived as a dagger aimed at the heart of the Iraqi state: disrupting policy with respect to the nation's most important resource; undermining the authority of the central government; and ultimately intended to underwrite a future Kurdish dash for independence that would rip the country asunder.
It's not hard to see how these conflicting visions, left unmediated, could trigger an unvirtuous action-reaction cycle. And the dynamic has only been exacerbated in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq last December, as Maliki's bent for concentrating power is increasingly viewed -- by Kurds, for sure, but by many other Iraqis as well -- as veering dangerously in the direction of a new authoritarianism. Political opponents have been targeted for arrest, including Iraq's Sunni vice president. More than 18 months into his second term, Maliki -- in contravention of a power-sharing agreement -- has yet to yield personal control over the defense, interior, and intelligence ministries. He has further been accused of politicizing Iraq's judiciary and central bank, while subverting the army's chain of command and turning its best equipped, best trained units into his own praetorian guard. And the list goes on.
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
The first round of the Egyptian vote for president has concluded, with a runoff to be held in June. Five of the 13 candidates are considered frontrunners and at the close of the second day of voting, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate is claiming the lead. Things couldn't be worse, no? Well, yes, they could be -- in fact, things are not so bad. Steeling myself as I anticipate my fellow democracy campaigners calling me overly optimistic, I will nevertheless plunge ahead. My optimism has a foundation.
What should evoke some optimism is 1) that this vote happened at all; 2) that it was preceded by demonstrations of grassroots political participation that has been influencing leaders for over a year and that is very likely to continue no matter who wins and no matter how entrenched the military elite remain; and 3) while we don't know the true count of the first round yet, several of the frontrunners vying for second place are not hardline Islamists. In fact, among those vying for second spot are a moderate Islamist who courts Christians, liberals, and leftists; two former Mubarak cabinet officials; and a leftist.
What we can gather from polling and journalists' reports is encouraging. Polling in Egypt, as in most developing countries and former tyrannies, is of course not very reliable, but what polls exist, in addition to much journalist-based anecdotal evidence, shows that many Egyptians, even in solidly pro-Islamist regions of the country, are wary of the Brotherhood or any Islamist party getting dominance over the country. The public has been unimpressed with, and even afraid of, too much control falling into the hands of the radicals. The Brotherhood's 6-month stint running parliament has given pause to an electorate, even among the Brotherhood's friends. Egyptians have been quoted as saying they want to see more than one party or point of view have some power. That's a democratic attitude that bodes well if a critical mass of Egyptians hold it and continue to vote that way.
And interestingly, it appears that some Egyptians are acting in the civic arena like Westerners: families are divided, and without bitterness, over candidates and party platforms.
In short, with this vote, even if the Brotherhood candidate wins it all, Egypt seems to have changed from a society that was under the sway and "tutelage" of despots to one that is awakening to the rights of citizens to choose their leaders from among many options and to hold those leaders accountable for good governance. The path forward will surely be rough at times -- probably often -- but the path forward appears to be one of Egyptians continuing to demand that government be more their servant than their master, as it has been for 5000 years.
So without getting caught up yet in the specific outcomes of the presidential election, let's recall how far Egyptians have come in the democratization of their country and appreciate why it should afford us a measure of hope -- even if there is little chance that a democratic reformer will be announced the winner next week and assume a mandate to operate within constitutional limits. We'll be able to rest more easily about the stability of Egyptian democracy when we know Egyptian grandmothers are hectoring their grandchildren to do their civic duty and go vote -- as the latter have come to take it for granted. That day is a long way off, but the last two days have been a promising start toward that day.
President Obama's surprise speech in Kabul was a political stunt filled with the kind of mischaracterizations typical of a campaign, but the actual U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that he signed while there was something of greater substance.
The crux of the long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in the new agreement is the American promise to designate Afghanistan a Major Non-NATO Ally. The designation communicates a relatively strong U.S. commitment to Afghan security and begin to undo the damage done by the Obama administration's various and shifting deadlines for the Afghan mission.
The agreement, however, has weaknesses. Click for my full analysis over at the AfPak Channel.
Afghan Presidential Palace via Getty Images
The Obama administration's two major weekend summits, the G-8 gathering at Camp David and the ongoing NATO meeting in Chicago, happen to be occurring as the U.S. presidential campaign gets underway. That coincidence of timing presumably helps explain an otherwise baffling statement by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon posted over at the Cable previewing the meetings:
Look for the Obama team to drive home the argument this weekend that the G-8 and the NATO summit are a testament to Obama's ability to repair alliances frayed during the George W. Bush administration.
"It had been an exhausting period leading up to 2009, and the president set about reinvigorating -- indeed, one of the first sets of instructions that we got during the transition, at the beginning of the administration, was to set about really building out and refurbishing, revitalizing our alliances," Donilon said.
"No other nation in the world has the set of global alliances that the United States does... And alliances, I will tell you from experience, are a wholly different qualitative set of relationships than coalitions of the willing."
The best explanation I can muster for this is that Donilon is channeling David Axelrod and indulging in some spin for the campaign "silly season." One hopes that the Obama administration doesn't actually believe that its record on alliances is so exemplary, because to do so means that the notorious White House-bubble must be even thicker than usual. Yet I suppose that as long as the media gives a free pass on these kinds of claims, they will be made. Even the Humble Cable-Guy, normally vigilant to call out any manner of fluff, spin, or distortion, seems to have missed this one.
Campaign spin notwithstanding, the reality is different.
First, taking Donilon's own timeline, the Obama administration inherited a set of alliances in solid shape. When Obama took office the Bush administration had largely repaired bilateral relationships that had been admittedly frayed during its first term. Gone were the "old Europe/new Europe" lines, the feuds with Chirac and Schroeder, etc. By 2008, America had very solid relationships with allies such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, as well as emerging partners such as India. Expanding these partnerships and inviting rising powers to the high table of international politics, Bush had even convened the first-ever G-20 summit in Washington to deal with the eruption of the global financial crisis.
Second, the Obama administration's record on relations with U.S. allies is wanting, to say the least. American allies and friends on almost every continent have been neglected or undercut by the Obama administration. These include specific countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Israel, Poland, Czech Republic, Georgia, Ukraine, and Colombia. While the specific issues may have varied -- whether neglected and re-litigated free trade agreements, abandoned missile defense commitments, cancellations of state visits, shirking of defense needs, rebuffs on energy cooperation, dithering on multilateral interventions, hectoring on fiscal policy, or just thoroughgoing neglect -- all of these nations, among them America's most important allies and partners, have suffered poor treatment at the hands of the Obama administration. Anecdotally, one can hardly visit a European capital without hearing private complaints from European diplomats over the neglect they feel from the Obama administration.
Third, Donilon's sanctimonious dig contrasting "alliances" with "coalitions of the willing" was unflattering as well -- to the Obama administration. After all, this White House has, for justifiable reasons, made frequent use of coalitions of the willing on its most significant foreign policy initiatives, such as the Libya War (which included non-NATO members such as Sweden, Qatar, Jordan, and UAE), the P-5 Plus One coalition on Iran, the "Friends of Syria" Group, and the Afghanistan War (forty non-NATO participants).
The Obama administration's efforts to keep blaming Bush have an almost perfunctory quality. If anything, they reveal this White House's own anemic record to base re-election on [insert obligatory "three envelopes" joke here]. I have some sympathy for the administration in that working with allies in practice is much harder than campaign rhetoric would indicate. But here the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is significant.
Obama campaigned claiming he would improve America's global image, but his treatment of allies has undermined our nation's credibility. In a way, Obama's international reputation seems to mirror his domestic reputation. At both home and abroad, personal affection for him far exceeds approval for his policies. He has been successful at cultivating his personal image in the world, but in the process America's standing has been diminished. In terms I hope our Anglosphere allies will appreciate, this White House may talk like Ringo Starr, but too often it has acted like Mike Reno.
Yesterday's column by David Ignatius ostensibly detailing the Obama administration's reelection campaign's strengths on foreign policy is revealing, but probably not in the way the White House hopes. While some more critical analysis from Ignatius (usually one of the most perceptive of foreign policy columnists) would have been preferred, in this case he seems to be channeling what he's hearing from the White House, so the column serves the useful purpose of explaining the administration's mindset. No doubt Obama's experience and understanding of foreign policy has, um, evolved during his time in office. But given the administration's message in the article's closing line that Obama will be making the campaign case that he has "learned on the job," the specific examples of the administration's current thinking and future priorities cited in the article are puzzling and don't help their case.
For example, on Syria Ignatius says that Obama "worries that the protracted struggle" risks empowering extremists who would be worse than Assad. This is a serious concern, but it also risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because it completely disregards the White House's own role in failing to support the non-extremist opposition elements in Syria who have for a year been crying out for American help.
On Russia, the hope is expressed that Obama can "do business" with the "transactional" Putin. One wonders if that is the most sophisticated assessment the White House can offer after investing so much diplomatic capital in Medvedev and the failed "re-set" policy, and after seeing Putin's conspiratorial and belligerent campaign directed at the U.S.?
On Iran, I hope the administration's optimism is warranted about the possibility of Tehran accepting a grand bargain on its nuclear program. But the real challenge comes if, as is more likely, Iran rejects the offer -- what is the administration's contingency plan? Especially since as Will Tobey lays out here, Vice President Biden's boasts and distortions notwithstanding, the Iranian regime has made substantial progress on its nuclear program during Obama's time in office.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Again, may the administration's optimism be warranted, but making that a second-term focus needs to first account for the significant setbacks caused by the administration's own previous miscalculations, especially by alienating the Israeli leadership and adopting a position on settlements even firmer than the Palestinian position itself. "Managing" the Arab Spring? This seems to have disquieting echoes of "leading from behind," especially given the administration's current paralysis on Syria and apathy and missed opportunities, as Jackson Diehl has argued, towards democracy promotion in general.
Also curiously absent from the list of second-term priorities is Afghanistan or Asia -- the latter omission is especially puzzling given the administration's previous hype about its strategic pivot. The bottom line is that, as Peter Feaver and I among others have described, the administration's foreign policy successes have generally come when they have followed Bush administration strategic frameworks, and their greatest missteps have come when they tried to go in different directions. Such a pattern does not necessarily bode well for the administration's hoped-for second term policy priorities. Now the skeptics out there might respond that of course Shadow Government writers would say something like that. But I hope those skeptics remember one of Shadow Government's modest maxims: Just because a Republican says it, doesn't mean that it isn't true.
BRUSSELS – For supporters of the war in Afghanistan, recent news has been depressing. Here in Brussels at NATO headquarters, where I've been observing the so-called "jumbo" ministerial of NATO defense and foreign ministers, officials were forced to address the Haqqani network's brazen attacks in several Afghan cities, including Kabul, over the weekend, as well as photographs published by the Los Angeles Times of U.S. Army soldiers posing with the body parts of suicide bombers in 2010.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
From the photographs of Hillary Clinton partying up at a Cartagena disco during last weekend's Sixth Summit of the Americas, it appears she was the only U.S. official who enjoyed herself while in Colombia. (We'll leave out the members of the president's security detail who were sent home for allegedly consorting with prostitutes.)
Indeed, despite being commended for "listening politely," President Obama had to have been frustrated with being endlessly harangued by his counterparts over historical and ideological grievances that predated his birth. It was, as the president said, like entering a "time warp."
Rather than figuring out how to cooperate with our southern neighbors in meeting the challenges of the 21st century global economy, the president was instead forced to sit and listen as others complained about why Stalinist Cuba wasn't invited to a summit of otherwise popularly elected governments or how come the United Kingdom won't honor Argentina's specious claim to the Falkland Islands after more than two centuries?
It's a wonder nobody demanded that President Obama cede back to Mexico a huge chunk of the American Southwest.
Of course, one of the hallmarks of Latin American populism is nursing historical grudges; it's easier than having to solve real problems. But, still, the disconnect between the agendas of the United States and our neighbors to the south continues to widen. And, in this, those administration officials tasked with managing the Latin America portfolio are not blameless.
Three years of U.S. neglect -- combined with a period of economic prosperity built mostly on Chinese demand for agricultural commodities and raw materials -- have convinced many governments in the region that cooperation with the United States is not as important as it used to be. An expression of that new-found attitude is talking about issues they want to talk about, and in which the United States has no interest discussing.
It is perfectly natural that Latin American governments are branching out and establishing new economic relationships or boosting trade amongst themselves. But spurning closer cooperation with the United States -- whose economy still comprises almost seventy percent of regional GDP -- is in no one's long-term interest.
It may be that the region is enjoying good times economically, but Chinese demand isn't always going to be there, and it is hardly a foundation on which to build lasting prosperity. Moreover, confronting the U.S. over historical grievances may boost some sort of elitist self-esteem, but it is hardly relevant to the majority of the region's citizens who live on less than two dollars a day.
Enhancing long-term development is better met through closer regional cooperation in trade integration, promoting energy security, strengthening democratic institutions, and tackling drug corruption and violence. And, of course, it cannot just be a one-way street. The ground is shifting under U.S.-Latin America relations, with the days of demand and compliance a distant memory.
In an increasingly turbulent world, there is much to say for developing stronger relationships within our own hemisphere. By doing so, we will also necessarily crowd out those who would rather wallow in the past than look to a prosperous and mutually beneficial future.
With this most recent summit so dominated by issues no U.S. president can find any benefit in discussing, some have speculated that this may very well be the last such summit in which the U.S. will likely participate. That would be unfortunate. Better that the Sixth Summit of the Americas be remembered as the nadir of U.S.-Latin America relations, with the only way to go but up.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
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.