Foreign Policy

Why the United States must freeze funding for UNESCO

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is asking UN bodies to grant state status to “Palestine”—so Palestinians can enjoy the prerogatives of statehood without making painful compromises with Israel.  Now that the Palestinian bid has failed to gain Security Council support, its efforts within individual UN entities take on added significance. 

The United States must continue opposing this gambit, which undermines U.S. peace efforts and challenges U.S. leadership.
 
Last month UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) became the first UN body to accept the Palestinian bid for full state membership.  UNESCO disregarded U.S. objections that Palestinians can achieve statehood only by negotiating and compromising with Israel.

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Down the rabbit hole

How often these days the world feels like we’ve fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole! To paraphrase Alice, nothing is what it is because everything is what it isn’t. We're told waterboarding isn’t torture and that to make the United States safe we have to violate our own laws and standards and reinstitute secret prisons and torture, policies we were wrong to use in the first place.
 
But that’s exactly the argument being made by most of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination, as well as what is embodied in a shocking amendment offered by Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire on the Defense Authorization bill.  It appears that Ayotte won’t get a vote this time on bringing back secret, illegal interrogations that amount to torture, but chances are, the senator will find another opportunity to offer her amendment.  Furthermore, the issue continues to come up on the presidential campaign trail, so it’s one we cannot be satisfied to think is over.
 

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Spain's Rajoy era opens

Despite a long-predicted landslide victory for Spain’s center-right and pro-business Popular Party, international markets are not joining festivities nor offering a temporary reprieve.  The short-term requires an immediate economic road-map for structural reform.  The long-term necessitates a two-pronged top-down and bottom-up approach for implementation of reform.

The top-down approach entails essential public outreach for transformation.  The new prime minister Mariano Rajoy, and his ministers, must effectively communicate and connect with ordinary Spaniards.  It is essential to explain austerity within the context of global realities and as a collective struggle.  After all, the people are direct stakeholders in the process.  Achieving a broad national consensus is critical.  Responsible leadership must emanate from the top.   

The bottom-up approach involves gradual transformation of the public psyche. Citizens’ economic rights, responsibilities and expectations and the state’s obligations and purpose must adapt to new world realities.  Curbing generous labor laws and pension schemes are just the beginning.  Outdated Western illusions of endless prosperity, instant gratification and the almighty state’s endless resources still prevail.  The cradle-to-grave state security system is over. 

Rajoy can claim technically a popular mandate but considerable votes were also against the status quo and the Socialist party’s failings.  His broad message for reform was unambiguous throughout the campaign. Most Spaniards accept tough times lie ahead. 

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Shortchanging our security

In the coming weeks, Congress may well downsize the portion of the U.S. budget that is the least costly and most effective way of ensuring our security both at home and abroad.  Against the advice of our nation’s top military and civilian leadership, the US Senate appears ready to once again cut our meager foreign aid budget, including the State Department and the non-partisan United States Institute for Peace. 

At a time that we are withdrawing our troops from Iraq and working to take advantage of historic events in the Middle East, the threatened cuts to these agencies are strategic mistakes that endanger our nation’s security.  Many of the proposed cuts, especially to agencies like USIP, whose budget has already been dramatically cut, are also ineffective cost-cutting measures.

In the 21st century there is broad consensus that our foreign policy must be premised on the three D’s: defense, diplomacy, and development. Diplomacy and development are the prerogatives of the State Department, USAID, the United States Institute for Peace and institutions which they call on to support our foreign policy objectives. These agencies not only enhance our influence and image abroad, they have saved lives and avoided expensive military engagement in conflict zones around the globe.

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GOP presidential candidates pledge to zero out foreign aid

My apologies to Marie Antoinette.  The much-maligned queen may never have actually dismissed her starving people with the callous phrase that they “eat cake,” but the leading Republican candidates for president did tell the world live on television to expect nothing further from the United States of America.  Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and their fellow candidates racing to the bottom of American generosity have declared that eliminating foreign aid – “starting from zero” – will be the central tenet of their foreign policy.
 
In addition to leaving hundreds of millions of people without lifesaving humanitarian assistance, “zeroing out” foreign assistance betrays some of our key allies like Israel, with whom we have existing agreements and essential partnerships.  Far from plying the world with expensive cake, American foreign assistance is vital to our national security, essential to our moral standing in the world, and greatly enhances our power and influence.  At less than one percent of the federal budget foreign aid costs far less than the outlandish tax cuts for the wealthy proposed by these same candidates. 

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Reagan & Reykjavik

The world recently marked the 25th anniversary of the historic Reykjavik summit, when President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in a simple clapboard house in Iceland to candidly explore an idea: Was it possible, within their lifetimes, to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of this earth?
 
The Senate will soon have the chance to advance that vision when it considers the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) for ratification. Our leaders should take this next step toward limiting the nuclear threat.
 
A year before the Reykjavik summit, in Geneva, Switzerland, Reagan and Gorbachev announced to the world "that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." Now, in Reykjavik, decades of Cold War hostility were thawing faster than anyone could have anticipated.

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Creating jobs at home through leadership abroad

Around the world, economic forces are shaping global politics, from Arab youth demanding economic opportunity to financial crises toppling governments.  And while our friends in Europe face their most severe economic test since World War II, we continue to have our own economic challenges here at home.  As Harry Truman wisely said, “our relations, foreign and economic, are indivisible.”

That’s why Secretary Clinton has placed economic statecraft at the center of our foreign policy.  As she put it: “America’s economic strength and our global leadership are a package deal.  A strong economy…gives us the leverage we need to exert influence and advance our interests.  It gives other countries the confidence in our leadership and a greater stake in partnering with us.” 

At the same time, our global leadership – from the allure of our values to the network of American diplomatic posts to our unmatched ability to marshal international cooperation – is essential to our economic renewal.  In these tough times, we must not forget that our presence in the world’s most dynamic regions supports job creation at home. 

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Bloated nuclear weapons budget ignored at GOP debate

U.S. nuclear weapons received decidedly short shrift in Saturday’s Republican Presidential Debates – especially given the billions of dollars spent each year to maintain a vast arsenal and their formerly preeminent role in American power. Which begs the question - why do we continue to pour billions into programs whose role is so clearly diminished?

Over ninety minutes of debate, there was one only question on the topic, aimed at Governor Rick Perry. In an attempt to recover from his previous “oops” moment, Perry confirmed that the Department of Energy (DOE) was number three on the list of federal agencies he’d like to abolish. In his response, however, he indicated that some other government agency could look after the oversight of energy and seemed either unaware or unconcerned about what would happen to the nuclear weapons that are under DOE’s care.  

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Using existing funding, programs and social media to get young people jobs in the Middle East and end unrest

During a major address last week on the challenges facing U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab Spring, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, “The real choice is between reform and unrest."  
She made these remarks as Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were continuing to kill protestors (3,500 since March), as rockets were being fired (again) by terrorists from Gaza into Israel, Israeli forces were firing back (again), and a few weeks after Palestinians who murdered Israelis returned to Gaza, were hailed as heroes.

The United States can do something now — fairly easy and inexpensive — to help bring reform to this region, end violence and a culture that worships jihad, and replace feelings of hate and despair with those of hope. We can use existing funding and programs to create jobs by tapping into the skyrocketing popularity of social media and the Internet in the Middle East.
 

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Will Congress take Iran diplomacy off the table?

Eighty-percent of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on to the “Iran Threat Reduction Act” (HR 1905, sec 601) which would prohibit U.S. government employees in any “official or unofficial capacity” from contacting anyone who is affiliated with the Iranian government and who “presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations.”
 
As New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote, “loony schemes like the Orwellian ‘Iran Threat Reduction Act’ before Congress that would make contact with Iranian officials illegal only foment a dangerous jingoism.”  The bill would heighten the threat of war by decreasing the likelihood of a diplomatic resolution of the conflict with Iran, which would give hardliners in Iran greater incentive to race for a nuclear weapon in an effort to deter a U.S. attack.
 

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