Foreign Policy

Libya needs international assistance, not drone attacks

Two years to the day after the anti-Gadhafi uprisings began in Benghazi, the populace has again taken to the streets. This time they are protesting the new authorities failures to bring economic development and its prerequisite, security. Over the last two years, wide swathes of Libyan territory have been transformed into a non-governed space has indirectly facilitated the Islamist takeover in Mali and the attack by Al-Qaeda affiliates on Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility. If Libya is the fabled ‘gateway to Africa’, then the gate has been left wide open.

In today's Libya, heavy artillery and extremist militants flow across the country's porous borders with ease. Since the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, Libya's extreme east is currently being monitored by American drones in search of jihadist training camps.

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Bringing the troops home, but not soon enough

President Obama announced in his State of the Union on Tuesday that over the next year, half of the U.S. combat force in Afghanistan will leave the country: by February 2014, 34,000 out of roughly 68,000 troops will have returned home. It is good news that additional American troops will come home after years of debilitating combat.  And it was gratifying to see the President dedicate time during a key speech to a conflict that has become known as America’s “forgotten war.”
 
However, the speech is also a reminder that the war is not ending as quickly or as completely as Americans hoped. A year from now, 34,000 troops will remain in combat – more than when President Obama took office.

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National dialogue central to Bahrain's long-term stability

This week, Bahrainis from across the political spectrum resumed a National Dialogue with the aim of producing consensus on how to move forward as a nation. The politics of the street are incapable of producing long-lasting solutions to political problems. Despite a number of unrealized opportunities for dialogue since the events of two years ago, it is encouraging that members of the political opposition have now returned to the negotiating table.

The political situation in Bahrain is much more complex than the binary choice between the government and the opposition. Although there are many actors that are critical of the government, there are also those that strongly disagree with the opposition’s political program. All voices must be heard on fundamental questions about political reform and the type of society Bahrain will become.

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Saving Syria before it's too late

This month marks two years since the start of the Syrian crisis. The civil war has claimed at least 60,000 lives and sent 755,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Nearly half of the refugees in Jordan are younger than twelve years old, and women outnumber men two to one. Over two million Syrians are internally displaced and unable to cross borders. The United Nations reports that more than four million Syrians are in urgent need of assistance. President Bashar al-Assad’s “iron fist” has responded to global condemnation and the rise of opposition forces with increased violence and overwhelming force.

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Preventing future attacks on foreign service personnel

This week marks the five-month anniversary of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
 
By now, we should know which terrorist groups were responsible. We should have identified, detained and interrogated suspects. We should know the connections between the attack in Benghazi and the series of other attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo, Tunis and Sana’a the same week, where American flags were torn down and replaced with al Qaida flags. We should have held the State Department officials responsible for the internal failures described in the Pickering Report accountable.  
 
Yet we have nothing.

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False trade-off on Bahrain

This week (Feb. 14) marks the second anniversary of sweeping peaceful demonstrations in the oil rich Kingdom of Bahrain in which citizens, inspired by the unfolding Arab awakening, took to the streets in support of democratic reform and respect for fundamental rights. Rather than introducing sustained and  long-promised reforms, the monarchy has responded with cosmetic actions and further repression. In a speech on the Arab Awakening in 2011, President Obama noted that “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens...The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

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Bias against Palestinians on display at hearing

In an unfortunately predictable manner, yet another congressional hearing held on 5 February 2013 entertained biased, misleading, and inaccurate statements about what is happening in Palestine. The hearing was titled “The Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects,” and yet no Palestinian representatives were invited. It is important to delineate several matters of concern.

First, Hamas has acknowledged that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has the mandate to negotiate a final status agreement with Israel. Their only concern is that the final agreement be put to referendum.  Second, the reconciliation process is not complete. The PLO, chaired by President Mahmoud Abbas, has made it clear that any reconciliatory measures with Hamas must commit to garnering and sustaining the diplomatic efforts to reach a peace agreement with Israel, bearing in mind the PLO’s previous agreements and accords with Israel. Third, reconciliation efforts have been supported by many allies of the United States in the region, including Egypt and Jordan, the only two countries that ratified and continue to hold permanent peace agreements with Israel. Finally, the Israeli leadership itself has repeatedly remarked that it cannot pursue a peace agreement with a fragmented Palestinian government.

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Brennan and the 'transformation' of the CIA

Thursday, John Brennan will face confirmation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. If confirmed, Brennan will lead a CIA that is more involved in paramilitary activities than at any time since its founding. In the past, Brennan has voiced suspicion over the increased role of the CIA in drone warfare, yet these types of operations have increased under his watch. Good, bad or indifferent, this is a fact. It’s time to sort out just how much of America’s national security will be relegated to secret warfare under the auspices of the CIA.

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Don’t forget those who fled for their lives in immigration reform

As President Obama and Congress lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform, it is essential that this reform does not leave out vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers who have fled their home countries because of torture and persecution.
 
As a torture survivor rehabilitation center, the Center for Victims of Torture provides healing services to victims of government-sponsored torture. A majority of the survivors we treat are asylum seekers who have suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of repressive regimes. Many lost family or friends as a result of violence and oppression and have been detained and tortured more than once before fleeing for their safety. Receiving asylum in the United States is their lifeline.

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The next step in strategic arms control

Last week, Sen. Hagel’s confirmation hearing sparked a heated debate over the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Some still define our arsenal by the rigid paradigm of the Cold War, a paradigm that is out of touch with today’s dynamic, multipolar security environment.

This week, the two-year anniversary of the entry into force of the last U.S.-Russia nuclear agreement - the New START Treaty - invites us to examine further steps to bring our nuclear deterrent into the 21st century.

We must update our strategy by eliminating excessive nuclear capabilities, maintaining a safe, secure, and usable deterrent force, and investing in defense capabilities that effectively address 21st century challenges.

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