Foreign Policy

Increasing our competitiveness

The Keynote address delivered at the American Chamber of Commerce in São Paulo, Brazil today.

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for the kind words.

Thank you to AmCham – especially Gabriel Rico and Eduardo Wanick – for the indispensable role you’ve played both in setting up this event and for all the good work you’ve done to expand trade between Brazil and the United States. 

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Day Eight: Marsa Matrouh, Egypt

Today we spent the day driving west across Egypt to reach the Libyan border. And as I watched the desert go by from the comfort of my air conditioned car, I wondered about the journey that those coming to the same border from the Libyan side would be making. And I worried about what might await them once they arrived.

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The end for President Salih in Yemen

The regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih is decidedly on the brink. With the resignations of over forty parliamentarians, nearly ten ambassadors (including to the U.N., U.K. and Saudi Arabia), and a handful of senior government and tribal figures, the once-nascent protest movement calling for Salih to step down is now reaching its revolutionary potential. Friday’s brutal massacre of over fifty unarmed people – in many cases, by snipers – guaranteed that.

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I’m optimistic about Afghanistan

My skepticism about America’s ability to deny sanctuary to al-Qaeda by denying them sanctuary in Afghanistan has been well documented during hearings by the House Armed Services Committee since the United States helped the Afghans topple the tyrannical Taliban government in 2001. That is because when we are successful in Afghanistan, that will not have denied sanctuary to al Qaeda because they will simply go over into Pakistan. 

If not there, they'll go to Yemen and Somalia. Even so, there are two compelling reasons why I am certain it would be dangerously wrong to precipitously withdraw American military forces from Afghanistan as Congressman Dennis Kucinich and others advocate.

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Day 5: Cairo, Egypt

Most of today was spent up in the air – literally. First, a flight from Djerba back to Tunis, then another from Tunis to Cairo. Tunisia and Egypt in one day. Two countries. Two remarkable revolutions.

I first came to Cairo last August. Being back here now, I find it incredible to think how this country has changed since then. And as our car crawls through the traffic from the airport to our hotel, I am reminded of a taxi ride that I took during that August visit.

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Seeing the mission through

The testimony General David Petraeus gave to Congress this week can be summarized as follows: we have just gotten all of the needed assets and capabilities in place, we are making significant progress, that the progress is fragile and reversible, and that we must not let up in our efforts because success there is essential to American national security.

 The General also answered many questions, including whether U.S. combat as well as non-combat forces will leave Afghanistan during withdrawals scheduled to begin in July 2011; about corruption in the country, and about the measurable signs of progress. He responded to my inquiry about the wisdom of setting a specific date to begin troop withdrawals, a decision I worry is arbitrary and based on political calculations rather than national security ones. 

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U.S. leadership on human rights essential to strengthen democracy abroad

Two decades ago, under President Bush, the State Department advocated for the Senate to start ratifying one major human rights treaty per year. That goal seems distant in the context of current political partisanship, but it imagined an ambitious overhaul of human rights rhetoric to better lead the democratic world by example after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the midst of what many are calling the Arab world’s 1989, the United States has a chance to revisit that effort, and reaffirm President Carter’s declaration: “Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the soul of our sense of nationhood.”

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A historic opportunity for Syria

As it turns out, Ambassador Robert Ford’s timing couldn’t be better. The diplomat, whose nomination to become the U.S. ambassador to Syria was stalled by opposing legislators for several months until President Obama sent him to Damascus in a recess appointment, settled into his new position just in time to witness the unprecedented wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East.

The upheaval in the region, and the challenging and nuanced policies that the United States must advance as a result, illuminate the need for seasoned diplomats like Ford, with deep knowledge and experience in this critical area of the world. 

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Day Four: Zarzis, Tunisia

Today was our last day in the Shousha transit camp near Tunisia’s border with Libya. And it was the first day that I felt nervous there – not for my personal safety, but rather for the future of the camp and those who are having to temporarily call it home. My unease was undoubtedly influenced by the knowledge that the flights taking the majority in the camp back to their home countries are about to be halted. And as I talked to people in the camp today, I worried about the impact such a stoppage might have on them.

The evacuation of the third party nationals from Shousha is an incredibly expensive operation. It works out to an average of about $900 per person, per evacuation. Those numbers add up when you consider how many tens of thousands of people have already been evacuated.

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Deciphering our schizophrenic Libya policy

Flush with the early success of Operation Desert Storm, President George H.W. Bush publicly noted that one way to end that war would be for “the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands.” Kurds in the north and Shi’a in the south erupted.  Almost immediately, they learned that the U.S. had no intent to aid them militarily in resisting Saddam Hussein’s wrath. For survivors of that 1991 massacre, the memory is as fresh as though it happened yesterday.

President Obama is allowing his administration to make the same mistake with the Libyan revolution. He has only one duty to the Libyan people, and that is to tell them with absolute clarity what they can expect from the U.S. As President Bush learned in 1991, what matters is not the administration’s literal statements but rather what the revolutionaries read into them.  That will shape the long-term future of U.S. relations with Libya just as it did in Iraq.

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