Shadow Government

President Obama finds his inner George W. Bush

President Obama delivered an excellent speech today. The outstanding question is whether his administration's deeds will follow his eloquent words. Still, as overdue as it was, he at last placed the United States firmly on the side of freedom in the Middle East. Even as the "Arab Spring" has shown signs of faltering in recent weeks, President Obama's remarks today have the potential to provide new support and momentum for the reformers of the region who are facing the challenges of disorderly transition in Egypt, setbacks in Bahrain, an impasse in Yemen, and sadistic violence in Syria.

Make no mistake about just how dramatic today's speech is. In his remarks today, President Obama also found his "inner George W. Bush" -- and effectively departed from the first 2 ½ years of his own administration's foreign policy. Though not mentioned by name in the speech, the strategic logic of the Bush Doctrine loomed large. It was Bush who in a November 2003 address to the National Endowment for Democracy declared:

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results.

And today President Obama announced that "after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be … it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."

Many of the specifics of President Obama's speech today reveal a new direction as well. After weeks of relative silence and waffling on the situation in Syria, he explicitly denounced Assad's crackdown and virtually called on the Syrian dictator to step down. After previous rhetorical outreaches to the "Islamic Republic of Iran" and silence during the June 2009 Green movement protests, today Obama denounced the "Iranian regime" for its hypocrisy and repression of its own people. After a posture of ambivalence and reluctance towards free trade initiatives, Obama today criticized "protectionism" and placed free trade as a centerpiece of new economic development initiatives for the region. After a policy of indifference towards international religious freedom, the president today forcefully identified religious freedom as a cornerstone of a new Middle Eastern political order, and specifically denounced the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Some things were still left unclear from today's speech. First, how does this new, and laudable, support for freedom in the region square with America's still acute security concerns, such as the Iranian nuclear weapons program? Second, why no mention of Saudi Arabia? Listening to Obama's cautions to U.S. partners such as Yemen and Bahrain about the need to liberalize their political systems and respect the rights of dissidents, I waited in vain to hear Saudi Arabia included as well.

Still, in the main this stands as one of President Obama's most significant and consequential speeches. The test will be how and to what extent his administration follows up these words in the months to come with concrete actions. Will he withdraw our ambassador from Damascus? Will he substantially increase the budget not just for economic aid but for democracy and human rights programs? How will his words today reshape the strategic priorities and assumptions of his administration?

Usually when a president uses language like "it will be the policy of the United States to …", a presidential doctrine follows. And in this case the Obama Doctrine sounds a lot like the Bush Doctrine.

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Shadow Government

Arctic treasure

The following is a guest post by John B. Bellinger III, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and an adjunct senior fellow in international and national security law at the Council on Foreign Relations. John served as legal advisor for the Department of State from 2005 to 2009 and legal advisor to the National Security Council from 2001 to 2005. --Peter Feaver

Last Saturday, with U.S. gas prices at record highs, President Obama announced the administration's plans to boost domestic oil and gas production by expanding drilling and exploration in U.S. coastal waters, including in the Gulf of Mexico and off of Alaska. But the president missed an important opportunity to endorse an international agreement that would codify U.S. sovereign rights to vast additional oil and gas deposits under the Arctic Ocean off of Alaska: the Law of the Sea Convention. The omission was especially puzzling after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while participating in a summit of the eight Arctic Council countries held two days previously in Nuuk, Greenland, declared U.S. ratification of the treaty "way overdue." The president should capitalize on calls by congressional Republicans and the oil and gas industry to increase domestic oil and gas production by urging the Senate to ratify the convention this year.

The Law of the Sea Convention was negotiated in 1982 to provide a comprehensive legal framework to govern international activities in, over, and under the world's oceans. Today, 160 countries are parties. The treaty guarantees all countries the right to freedom of navigation through and over the territorial seas of coastal states. With the largest fleet in the world, the U.S. Navy -- together with our Air Force, Army, Marines, and Coast Guard -- have long urged the Senate to approve the convention in order to codify their critical navigational rights, which are often challenged by other countries.

The treaty also gives coastal states sovereign rights to the fish and living marine resources in the ocean and oil, gas, and minerals under the seas within 200 miles of their coasts. And it gives coastal states additional rights to the oil, gas, and minerals on their continental shelves, but only if they prove to an international commission established by the convention that these geologic shelves extend more than 200 miles from their coasts.

The "extended continental shelf" of the United States extends more than 600 miles into the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, covering an area twice the size of California. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that this area contains nearly a hundred billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, as well as extensive deposits of valuable minerals.

The four other countries bordering the Arctic Ocean -- Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark -- have already enriched themselves and their people by tapping into their coastal oil and gas deposits and are staking claims to vast additional resources on their extended continental shelves in the Arctic. Norway's oil fund -- derived from revenues from oil and gas production in the North Sea -- is already worth $500 billion.

While these countries laugh all the way to the oil and gas bank, the U.S. sits on the sidelines unable to claim the resources on its extended continental shelf in the Arctic because it is not a party to the Law of the Sea treaty. U.S. oil and gas companies simply will not invest in these areas unless the U.S. has clear legal title. Unfortunately, a handful of Republican senators have blocked U.S. ratification of the treaty based on myths and misperceptions about the treaty. Even where their concerns may have some merit, they are heavily outweighed by the substantial national security and economic benefits to the American people of joining the treaty and the high costs of not joining.

Although the Law of the Sea treaty is complex, many Republicans who have considered the treaty carefully have endorsed it. The Bush administration -- which was rarely accused of overabundant enthusiasm about international law and institutions -- concluded after a lengthy internal review that the treaty is vital to U.S. economic and national security and urged the Senate to approve it. Even Sarah Palin, when she was governor of Alaska, strongly supported Senate approval, arguing that although "ratification of the convention has been thwarted by a small group of senators who are concerned about the perceived loss of U.S. sovereignty … I believe quite the contrary is true."

President Obama's apparent reluctance to push for Senate approval of the convention is understandable in light of competing legislative priorities and the uphill battle his administration experienced securing Senate approval of the New START treaty last December. But the president should seize the opportunity presented by Republican support for increased domestic oil and gas production to urge the Senate to approve the treaty.

Republican senators, industry groups, and corporations who quietly support the convention also need to play a more active role in championing it. They should rebut the myths and vigorously explain the substantial benefits of the treaty to undecided or skeptical senators, rather than leaving the work solely to the executive branch. And they should let the White House know they are prepared to support it.

Of all the treaties currently pending before the Senate, the Law of the Sea Convention offers the most extensive economic and national security advantages to the American people. There is still time on the Senate calendar this year to consider and approve it. President Obama should make it his administration's top treaty priority, and Senate Republicans should support its passage.

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