Foreign Policy

Let's be smart about foreign aid in the debates ahead

Over the next seven days the House will act on finalizing the fiscal year 2011 budget and President Obama will unveil his spending blueprint for 2012. Washington is abuzz about budget cuts starting with White House plans to freeze non-security resources for five years and House Republican initiatives to roll back spending levels to 2008 or earlier.

Every aspect of the budget is receiving close scrutiny and foreign aid is no exception. In fact, the degree of attention focused on these programs -- that help protect U.S. national security interests, provide opportunities for the world’s poor, save lives through health interventions, expand American exports that create jobs at home, and respond to humanitarian disasters -- often seems out of proportion to the less-than 1% of the budget that foreign aid receives.

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On the secession referendum in southern Sudan

Today, the results of Southern Sudan’s secession referendum were released: they show that the people of Southern Sudan have overwhelmingly voted to secede from the north. This referendum marks an historic moment: it is an opportunity for the people of Sudan, both north and south, to put to rest the legacy of Africa’s bloodiest civil war. An independent Southern Sudan means the possibility of peace and security for its people; for those who have suffered from decades of civil strife, today is a day of great hope. I am grateful to those in Sudan, the international community, the Obama Administration, and the humanitarian community who helped make this vote possible. 

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West should seize the moment in Middle East

2011 could well be the year that reshapes the future of North Africa and the Middle East forever. The unrest now spreading across the region reminds us of the fall of Russia’s empire in Eastern Europe. The Middle East is now going through its biggest political upheaval in decades. The era of stagnation is over and calls for democracy, human rights and dignity have spread across an area where dissent is alive but has been massively repressed.

As Western leaders appear to look on with fear rather than joy, it is clear that one simple message should be noted by western diplomats: The era of appeasing tyrants and trading freedom for stability in the Middle East is over.

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Egypt: Anything is possible

I first traveled to Cairo in 2001, just two months before the towers fell. I remember contrasting the feeling of being in Egypt with that of being in the U.S. In the U.S., anything — education, career, love, fame —seemed possible. In Egypt, the people, the country itself, seemed resigned, like there was nothing to look forward to. In a café near Tahrir Square, I drank coffee with two middle-class, university-educated, unemployed young men, who told me that there was nothing for them in Egypt. Nothing.

Almost ten years later, I am living in the region and watching it erupt with something that has, for too long, been absent: possibility.  

While this moment is undeniably an Arab moment, in which the people in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and across the Arab world are contemplating what they want their societies to be, it is also a moment of reckoning with the United States. 

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Dear Mr. Speaker: Supporting the Egyptian people in a House resolution

The following letter was sent to House Speaker John Boehner to vote on a resolution in support of the Egyptian people:

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In view of the tragic violence unfolding in Egypt, we write to request that the House take up an emergency resolution in support of the Egyptian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy as soon as possible returning to session.

Congress can and should send a strong message calling on the Egyptian government to immediately halt any aggression against the Egyptian people by forces aligned with their regime. The Egyptian military should be strongly encouraged to intercede to protect vulnerable, unarmed citizens. We must urge the government to respect the Egyptian people’s right to assemble peacefully, and to stop blocking the access to communication that is a basic right of free people.

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Our 30-year mistake

The events in Egypt of late have captured the attention of the world, as many thousands of Egyptians take to the streets both in opposition to and in favor of the current regime. We watch from a distance hoping that events do not spiral further into violence, which will destroy lives and threaten the livelihoods of average Egyptians caught up in the political turmoil.

I hope that Egyptians are able to work toward a more free and just society. Unfortunately, much of the blame for the unrest in Egypt and the resulting instability in the region rests with U.S. foreign policy over the past several decades. The U.S. government has sent more than $60 billion to the Egyptian regime since the Camp David Accords in 1978 to purchase stability, including more security for the state of Israel. We see now the folly of our interventionist foreign policy: not only has that stability fallen to pieces with the current unrest, but the years of propping up the corrupt regime in Egypt has led the people to increase their resentment of both America and Israel.

We are both worse off for decades of intervention into Egypt’s internal affairs. I wish I could say that we have learned our lesson and will no longer attempt to purchase – or rent – friends in the Middle East, but I am afraid that is being too optimistic. Already we see evidence that while the U.S. historically propped up the Egyptian regime, we also provided assistance to groups opposed to the regime. 




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Why Morocco matters

Pundits do not, as a rule, make good prophets, but that does not stop them from aligning themselves with various scenarios of what will happen in the Arab world in the wake of the regime change in Tunisia. While Egypt followed Tunisia with its own serious domestic uprisings calling for changing the government, and Yemen may well face the same challenge, a broad brush approach is hardly useful in defining what US policy options are or ought to be.

Morocco is a case in point. It is a strong monarchy with a representative Parliament, and its King enjoys a unique religious and political leadership status with his people. It is a country that has moved away from authoritarian behavior and invested in institutional change that is opening political space for its citizens and responsible opposition to critique government policies, exercise individual freedoms, and seek opportunities from a market-centered economy. 

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From Egypt to Africa

Looking at the Maghreb region in Northern Africa nowadays, living in the EU can sometimes make you feel a little uncomfortable. 

Only a few weeks ago, the riots started in Tunisia and Algeria. Meanwhile they are spreading now via Libya and Egypt even to Jordan. The only stable country in the region is Morocco, basically because democratic reforms had started here a lot earlier. 

The U.S. is in a state of alert since they are currently losing their stable political anchors in the region, making U.S. diplomacy even more difficult than after the WikiLeaks disaster. And military activity along with intelligence gathering is also not becoming easier that way. 

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Seeking to protect Egypt's democratic transition

Egyptians have taken to the streets in full force again today to demand the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, in their eleventh consecutive day of mass mobilization for regime change. At the same time, the American policy establishment is hyperventilating about the possibility of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) coming to power when all is said and done.

As an Egyptian Christian woman, I have deep concerns that Egypt could be ruled by illiberal forces that do not abide by democratic principles or govern with respect for fundamental human rights including religious freedom, protection of minorities, and equal rights for women. However, there are many reasons why I do not believe Egypt is headed in this direction, and why I support Egypt’s Lotus Revolution.

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Afghanistan and Pakistan: sorting fact from hope

President Obama's State of the Union Speech cited a light at the Afghan tunnel’s end, and General Petraeus said a few hours earlier that conditions are improving in Afghanistan. For readers of Google News on Afghanistan and Pakistan these statements hit a discordant note; journalists are describing steady deterioration in both countries. While it is perhaps disrespectful to question the veracity of Messangers Obama and Petraeus, a look some facts can help assess their claims.

In Afghanistan, since 2007, the tempo of the Taliban insurgency has increased, notwithstanding U.S. reinforcements and frequent drone attacks. This period, in fact, has seen the insurgency spread from southern and eastern Afghanistan to all areas of the country, including the north where the allies of Washington and President Karzai are based. Insurgencies, of course, wax and wane, but the import of this dispersion lies in it occurring as nation-building measures meant to check Taliban appeal have had success. Three million more Afghan children are in school; more reliable supplies of potable water, electricity and medicine are available; and many miles of road have been built. There seems, then, no correlation between nation-building successes and defeating the Taliban.

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