Foreign Policy

U.S. too focused on negatives in European debt crisis

As in the Greek tragedies they usually invoke, some commentators in the United States seem to believe that the European "sovereign debt crisis" can only have a bad ending. They are overlooking two fundamental facts. 

First, the European Union is addressing head-on not only the symptoms but also the root causes of the problems. Second, since its introduction, the euro has been a major boon to businesses and consumers, as well as a unifying political factor, and no country will allow it to fail. 

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Understanding Egypt through Tunisia

After the anti-Mubarak "Day of Rage" demonstrations ignited across Egypt on January 25, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered this flimsy reaction: "Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people." 

Secretary Clinton's indicators of stability are questionable - the first day of demonstrations resulted in four dead, five hundred arrested, and angry protests flaring in every corner of the country. There were talks that the government shut down Facebook and Twitter. It was rumored to have scrambled cell phone signals. These events are absolutely, and by all standards, unprecedented in the recent history of Egypt.

The scale and intensity of anti-Mubarak protests in the streets have not been seen in living memory. More significantly, it is clear that the Egyptian people have crossed the fear barrier. They are ready for a fight. The United States must now recognize the significance of this moment.

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A call for a democratic resolution in Egypt (Rep. Steve Rothman)

The United States and our allies are all monitoring the situation on a minute by minute basis and encourage a peaceful and democratic resolution to the current Egyptian unrest. My heart goes out to all of those who have been killed or injured during the mass demonstrations in the Egyptian streets.

For the past 30 years, as the most populous of the Arab states, with the largest standing army in the region, Egypt has played a critically important role in protecting America's interests in North Africa and the Middle East. This includes Egypt's cooperation in military, intelligence, and economic matters with our country; and its continuing to preserve the peace with America's most important friend and strategic ally in the region, the Jewish State of Israel. Egypt has also partnered with the U.S., Israel, and our other allies in fighting terrorism. 

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Mubarak will have to go (Sen. Bill Nelson)

Many times throughout human history, the yearning for freedom has given rise to civil unrest and disorder.  So it was earlier this month in Tunisia.  So it is now in Egypt. 

On December 17, just hours after being harassed by local authorities, a young Tunisian street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire.  It was a desperate protest against his country’s grinding unemployment and the abuse he suffered at the hands of an authoritarian regime.

Although the fire itself was quickly extinguished, the flames of anger and frustration spread across Tunisia.  On January 4, when Bouazizi died of his injuries, the resulting inferno brought down Tunisia’s longtime ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Fueled by repression and unemployment, and spreading through Facebook and Twitter, the flames of anger and frustration reached Egypt.  There, with massive citizen revolt and huge new protests planned for this week, time is running short for longtime President Hosni Mubarak. 

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Change is under way in the Middle East

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak bragged two years ago as bombs and white phosphorus fell on Gaza, “We have totally changed the rules of the game.”
 
He was right and with tragic consequence. Shortly after Christmas 2008 Israel unleashed its air force to bomb Gaza, killing in the first five minutes more than 200 people. The war went on until just before President Obama took office.  Hundreds of civilians were killed, thousands injured, and more than 14,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. The war on Gaza was condemned practically everywhere, except Washington.
 
Israel did not destroy Hamas, but succeeded in filling the minds of our children with images of killed people. Fear was instilled in young hearts. As a psychiatrist I can testify that the effects of the war have touched everyone’s mind.

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The lack of a vision for Afghanistan in the State of the Union

President Obama’s State of the Union speech was insightful both for what was said, but also, what was not. Despite massive illiteracy, poor communications infrastructure, and limited media, news travels fast in Afghanistan. Today’s New York Times headline story is tomorrow’s bazaar gossip. What Afghans (and Pakistanis, Iranians, and Indians for that matter) will be talking about is the President’s plan to begin bringing our troops home in July 2011. Reaffirming July 2011 is, once again, a step backwards for the President’s blueprint for success in Afghanistan.

The decision to begin drawing down forces in July 2011 was unveiled by the President just over two years ago but was also paired with the announcement of additional “surge” forces being sent to Afghanistan to undertake a major offensive against the Taliban. The President noted that July 2011 was the “beginning” of a drawdown that would take into account “conditions on the ground.” In the State of the Union, the President’s “conditions-based” caveat was nowhere to be found.

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Chinese transparency needed on nuclear arms

On January 9, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to China to revitalize dialogue on military-to-military relations. This week, President Hu of China visits Washington and those discussions continue. On the agenda should be measures to increase the transparency of China’s nuclear arsenal. With the New START treaty ratified by the Senate and pending ratification in the Russian Duma, increased openness from China will be critical to gradually expanding the disarmament process. And while the larger process of disarmament would benefit from increased Chinese transparency, there is little doubt that China would gain as well.

The driving force in US-Russian arms control has been a mantra that transparency fosters predictability and predictability ensures stability. Although challenges in U.S. - Russian relations persist, the New START agreement was signed more by partners than enemies and it extended a policy of openness regarding one another’s nuclear programs. The same should be true for China, which no less than others, is interested in stability in order to secure economic growth. More predictability would enhance China’s security, not diminish it.

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Time to wield the foreign policy stick

America plays the role of abused partner in its relationship with China. Although the Asian giant repeatedly injures U.S. industry by violating international trade rules, America has responded, almost exclusively, by pleading and begging for China to stop.

China says it’s sorry. And continues to violate the rules. America respectfully beseeches China to discontinue manipulating its currency, and China says it will. Then it allows the value to increase a completely insignificant amount. Still America does nothing. Nothing. It simply accepts the abuse.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Michael Williams, senior vice president of U.S. Steel stood with me Wednesday at a press conference in Pittsburgh to urge President Obama in his meetings this week with Chinese President Hu Jintao to announce that America is done with soft talk. We want President Obama to tell President Hu that America has heard enough promises; the United States is bucking up and pulling out that big stick that Teddy Roosevelt carried in foreign policy negotiations.

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It's time to stand up to China

Emerging strengthened from the global recession with greater international leverage, China’s actions and rhetoric have grown increasingly hostile and provocative. It has seriously risked overplaying its hand. It threatens to destabilize much of Asia, already wary of rapid Chinese growth, and undermine volatile bilateral relations with the U.S.  Such behavior can only fuel greater uncertainty in a fragile world struggling to recover from economic turbulence.   President Obama must firmly stand his ground when engaging China. Failure to do so will only embolden the Chinese to defy and strong-arm others. Caving in will only make the Asia-Pacific region, and wider world, a less safe place.

Ultimately, no one will tame China. It must tame itself, for its own interest and international stability. However, others cannot stand by idly. Collective influence must be exerted when necessary. On issues such as Iran and North Korea, China must not be diplomatically spared when playing the odd-man out.

There is a fundamental need for continuous engagement, improving dialogue, avoiding animosity and developing greater collective initiatives. The U.S. must avert confrontation due to the catastrophic consequences for all.

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Possible breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear program?

Iran resumes talks on its nuclear program with the EU, US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany on Thursday and Friday, in Istanbul. Previous talks in early December produced very little in terms of concrete results, but were hailed as successful because it was the first time the parties had met for several months, and discussions were broad and free-ranging. Familiar warnings have already been heard that these talks represent a last opportunity to find compromise, though with a twist. In the past it had been the Israelis who warned of a ticking time bomb, and the Iranians who seemed to believe time was on their side. This time it was President Ahmadinejad who warned his negotiating partners last week that they had little time to come up with concrete and attractive proposals; whilst Israel’s outgoing intelligence head, Meir Dagan, suggested that Iran was now at least four years from achieving a nuclear capability. Whether this had to do with Hillary Clinton’s claims that sanctions were working, or the claimed effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer virus, or simply the evolving diplomatic calculations of the parties concerned, we may never know.

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