Foreign Policy

Are taxpayers funding Palestinians' dangerous unilateralism?

The Associated Press reported yesterday that “Palestinian delegations will make the rounds of nearly a dozen countries to try to drum up more support for their bid to have the United Nations recognize a Palestinian state.”

In the coming weeks, Palestinian representatives will proposition Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several other undisclosed countries that have not yet endorsed the Palestinian plan for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

These visits come after PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi pursued similar objectives in capitals across Europe, and senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath went on lobby missions to Armenia, Moldova, the Philippines, Mexico, and Colombia. Later this summer, Palestinian ambassadors will all fly to Madrid to discuss their European strategy.

Here’s a question for Congress: where is the travel money coming from? Diplomatic junkets don’t grow on trees. 


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U.S. strategy increasing instability and displacement in Afghanistan

In May, I traveled with two of my Refugees International colleagues to Afghanistan. We were there to assess the needs of displaced people and returning refugees in the country. What we found is that Afghan civilians are caught in the middle of an intensifying military campaign against a fractured armed insurgency. Despite the U.S. military’s claims of progress, insurgent attacks are up by 50% over last year, and more than 250,000 people have fled their villages in the past two years. As the U.S. begins to draw down its forces in Afghanistan, Refugees International is calling on the Obama administration to try to minimize further displacement and ensure that the Afghan government takes greater responsibility for the protection of displaced people.

A rising number of displaced people are ending up in urban areas. In Kabul alone, over 30,000 people live in dozens of informal settlements with very poor health and sanitation conditions. They receive little assistance from the Afghan government, and often have to resort to begging simply to feed their families.

We visited one of these settlements, located on the side of a busy Kabul road. And we filmed a short video in the camp to try to give people a sense of what life is like for just a few of those hundreds of thousands of displaced Afghans.

In May, an RI team traveled to Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif. You can view the video report here.

You can view a copy of Refugees International’s full report here.

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We need to clarify why we're in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan earlier this week moved U.S. policy in the right direction through its emphasis on placing more responsibility in Afghan hands and prioritizing a political settlement that includes the Taliban. But it struggled to clarify an implementation plan for achieving U.S. objectives. The transition plan between July 2011 and 2014, when security is handed over to Afghans, continues as two bookends with no content in between, leaving one to wonder whether the plan is to hold our breath until 2014, and hope for the best. 
 
The challenge now is to fill in the detail behind the President’s strategic direction and to put in place the plans, metrics, benchmarks and programs to aggressively pursue a political settlement and to hand this over to Afghans. Currently, there is no detail in all lines of effort between now and 2014.  Basic questions, such as what is the military priority for U.S. and NATO forces in this intervening period – training Afghan forces, targeting Taliban leaders, or protecting civilian populations from attack - and how the military mission aligns with the larger goal, remain unanswered. 

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Moroccan king makes good on promised reforms

In a major address to the people of Morocco this past Friday, King Mohammed VI of Morocco again made clear his commitment to the future of his country and his long standing pledge to anchor the nation in democratic values, respect for the rule of law, and social equality. While others in the Middle East and North Africa continue to be mired in either uncertainty or a stubborn and increasingly brutal resistance to change, Morocco continues to demonstrate its dedication to the reformist path it has pursued for the past two decades. 

In an historic speech, King Mohammed announced that he welcomed the fundamental reform proposals that were submitted by the Constitutional Reform Commission, including recommendations made by civil society, the political parties, and the public via the www.reforme.ma website. And as he had promised in his speech on March 9, it will be the people of Morocco who will have the final say on the proposed Constitutional amendments in a national referendum scheduled for July 1.

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Protect our valuable alliances, stay in Libya

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) made the following remarks on the House Floor today on the U.S. role in Libya:

"America must Lead; we must not equivocate. Such a course would encourage the enemies of peace, the bullies of the world ... People around the world look to our country's strength in their struggle for democracy and basic human rights."

As it happens, I first said those words in 1999. American troops were on the way to Kosovo to protect civilians - and at the same time, Congress was voting to undermine their mission. We are in a similar place today.

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Jamaica rising

What a difference a year makes!

One year ago, as I started my tour of duty as Jamaica’s tenth Ambassador to the United States, recognizing that in a post cold war world, Jamaica and the Caribbean’s importance to the USA was centered mainly around their concerns for their third border security and the ravaging impact of the transnational narcotic trade which used the Caribbean as a transshipment point.

Jamaica grappled with the effects of the severe global economic crisis which exacerbated the existing conditions of a declining economy and a crushing debt burden. The recession lessened the demand for exports, reduced remittances, decreased international travel and contributed to closures in the bauxite industry, all the major revenue earning areas of the country.

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Congress has a voice on human rights in Russia. Will it use it?

I was shocked at Samuel Charap’s amoral and ill reasoned blog earlier this week. I was Sergei Magnitsky's boss, a Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and I still manage an American law firm in Moscow. After 18 years of real world experience representing American businesses in Russia, I can assure you that compromising American morals and ideals, as he shamelessly recommends, will only encourage Russia’s continued slide into lawlessness.

Sergei was a 37-year-old father of two and a senior partner in an American law firm. He discovered the largest ever theft of Russian state taxes. Following President Medvedev’s call, Sergei fought “legal nihilism” and tried to stop the crime. He took the brave step of testifying against the government officials involved in the crime, but instead of supporting Sergei, the Kremlin kept silent and allowed Sergei to be arrested, tortured, and killed by the same corrupt officials he had testified against.

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Going forward with U.S.-Pakistan relations

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, suspicion pervades U.S.-Pakistan relations. While Washington considers pulling aid packages, increases drone strikes in the tribal areas and moves American troops in Afghanistan eastward to the mountainous border with Pakistan, Islamabad arrests CIA informants this week allegedly responsible for aiding and abetting the U.S. spy agency in the weeks leading up to Osama’s death.

Since 9/11, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has always been a prickly one, but the level of current distrust has risen to an all-time high. This is dangerous, not least because it portends the possibility of a substantial ramp-up in U.S. military intervention. In the last ten years, U.S. involvement has been relatively masked from the Pakistani public eye. 

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Congressional reaction to troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the following statements after President Obama's address on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan Wednesday evening.

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Compromising security in Afghanistan

In December 2009, President Barack Obama simultaneously announced a surge of 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan and its draw-down beginning in summer 2011. He kept his word but the premise of his decision is flawed and misleading.  His over-optimistic rhetoric that “progress” and “gains” have been made is only partially true. The situation is still reversible. 

Obama’s assertion that the U.S. is dealing “from a position of strength” is also inaccurate.  The reality is that the U.S. has been in the process of consolidating a position of strength since the surge’s start. The President’s troop reduction undermines this process. The surge’s full troop amount only arrived approximately one year ago. Permitting it less than two full fighting seasons is self-defeating. Launching such a massive initiative and then denying it the opportunity to realize its full potential is rash and short-sighted.

It places undue pressure on remaining ground troops, further complicates their existing responsibilities, and exponentially burdens their ability to confront mounting challenges. In brief, it makes a tough job even tougher. Contrary to his recent statements, the President is not “fulfilling his commitments”. Ultimately, his drawdown decision disincentivizes ordinary Afghans from collaborating with international forces for fear of future insurgent retribution. 

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