Foreign Policy

Stop subsidizing recruiting grounds for terrorists and traffickers

Why are US tax dollars being used to subsidize a recruiting ground in North Africa for al-Qaeda terrorists, drug traffickers, and mercenaries?

That’s a question US and international policymakers should ask after reading a new study by the International Center for Terrorism Studies (ICTS), which warns that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is extending its reach across North Africa and the Sahel and actively recruiting from the Polisario-run refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria.

The report says these camps - which are supported by millions of dollars in U.S. and international relief aid - have become “a recruiting ground for terrorists, traffickers, and other criminal enterprises.” The study calls on the U.S. and international community to “prioritize permanent refugee resettlement in line with existing international protocols and agreements.”


Cuts to SM-3 missile funding send wrong message to Iran

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are set to meet at the White House on Monday to discuss the Iranian crisis.

There are rapidly increasing signs that Israel may launch a pre-emptive defensive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities as soon as this spring. The Islamic regime is thought to be approaching a “zone of immunity,” in which the nuclear program will be defended beyond Israel's military might. The president, on Monday, is expected to continue to ask Israel to face this existential threat with restraint, hoping that tighter economic sanctions, coupled with diplomacy, will yield fruit.

Central to the U.S. diplomatic approach is the notion that if Israel does find it necessary to strike, Iran's threat to counter-attack American interests will not deter us; we have the capability to defend against such threats.

But President Obama’s FY 2013 budget sends a conflicting and dangerous message about our commitment to this approach.


The Russian evolution

Although Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election is inevitable, the key question surrounds his margin of victory. This will help determine whether he possesses a popular mandate. Without a convincing final result, he may be denied one. This  could undermine his credibility and reduce his leverage. Furthermore, it would complicate his ability to  implement an agenda.

Since assuming power over a decade ago, Mr. Putin has woken to a new reality. Due considerably to the rise of global commodities prices, a tech-savvy urban middle class has emerged that will increasingly influence the course of Russian politics over time. However, it is not yet representative of broader Russian society.


World Bank needs Jeffrey Sachs

With Robert Zoellick stepping down from the World Bank helm, there is no better time for a development economist with solid on-the-ground and substantial international experience – like Dr. Jeffrey Sachs – to take his place.  
There are three clear reasons for this. The first has to do with levels of poverty and income inequality, which are reaching record levels in the US and remain problematic abroad, with over 1 billion people living in extreme poverty – at less than $1.25 a day – and another 2.5 billion without basic sanitation.
The second has to do with the broken economic systems of the developed and developing worlds and the deleterious impacts they will continue to have.  All we have to do is watch the fall of Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain, let alone the imminent ripple effects in even poorer countries, to forecast the kind of cleanup with which the Bank will be tasked.


Out of touch: GOP candidates choose political posturing over smart policy in Iran

You may have noticed that unleaded gasoline prices are approximately 10 percent higher than at this time last year. Unsurprisingly, one contributing factor in this spike in oil prices is also making headlines: Iran. 

Recently, CNN Money reported that, “Tensions with Iran are adding at least 30 cents to a gallon of gasoline in the United States, and experts say gas prices have only just begun to rise.”

Over the past few months, inflammatory rhetoric at home and abroad has led to widespread concern that a conflict with Iran is imminent. While military and intelligence leaders continue to strongly oppose a military strike and make the case for the current American policy choices, including sanctions and diplomacy, Republican Presidential candidates have added fuel to the fire by calling for a military solution before other options have been given time to bear fruit.


Abandon failed Middle East foreign policy strategies

For nearly a decade, the United States has invested money, sweat, blood and tears all in the name of a free and democratic Iraq. Before the war, Iraqis suffered under the oppressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Recent events have led me to believe that perhaps the new government does not value freedom any more than the last.

As a member of Congress, I have been fortunate enough to go to Iraq several times to visit our troops. During my last visit with a bipartisan Congressional delegation we also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. During a nearly two hour-long discussion I asked one simple question: "Can we go see Camp Ashraf?" 

I represent a number of Iranian Americans who have family members in the camp. They were particularly worried at this point since Iraqi forces had killed 36 residents at the camp just weeks before. But our simple request was met with a defiant, “no.” All of a sudden, the meeting was over. It left me wondering -- what does the prime minister have to hide? Later that day we learned that Prime Minister Maliki had ordered us evicted from Iraq. We did not leave the country until we finished visiting our troops and other Iraqis.


Obama broke promise to Senate on Defense spending

In selling his New START treaty with Russia, President Obama promised senators he was committed to improving U.S. missile defenses and modernizing America's aging nuclear arsenal.

Earlier this month, the administration unveiled the fiscal year 2013 budget to Congress, revealing that the president has utterly failed to make good on his promises.

Senators, led by Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), pressured the Obama administration to provide assurances that if the U.S. reduced its nuclear arsenal, the remaining weapons would maintain a credible deterrent. In order to achieve this, the U.S. must upgrade its nuclear weapons and the facilities that house them.


U.S. must follow up Colombian aid with effort

Last week, my colleague Alice Thomas and I were entangled in an interminable web of meetings and traffic in Bogota. Our discussions centered on two very different, yet interrelated, challenges facing Colombia: Two years of record floods that paralyzed broad swaths of the country, and the start of reparations for the victims of Colombia’s decades-long conflict. Both the conflict and the flooding have displaced millions of people. And while the government agencies responsible for responding to natural disasters and conflict are different, we noticed some striking similarities.

In both cases, the Santos Administration has demonstrated strong political will by creating new institutions, strategies, and processes for dealing with displacement. Nevertheless, serious concerns remain as to whether the Colombian government can convert savvy policymaking into real results.

While the government marshaled more than a billion dollars to respond to the floods, weak institutions at the local level hampered aid delivery. Since then, the Santos administration has taken steps to rectify these shortcomings, but significant challenges remain. Indeed, these same institutional weaknesses could also undermine implementation of the Victims Law.

The U.S. may have no better partner in Colombia than the partner it has in President Santos. He appears dedicated to healing Colombia’s deep societal wounds and is undaunted by attempts to slow progress. But he will need help to face down the mounting pressure from large land owners, the latifundistas. A bitter irony of the Victims’ Law is that in its attempt to reconcile 48 years of conflict and unite the nation, it has divided Colombia’s elite.


Advise and assist or hold back and hope?

When Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently announced that U.S. forces in Afghanistan would be transitioning from "combat operations" to an "advise and assist" role sometime in 2013, some applauded and others decried what they saw as a shift in U.S. policy.
Actually, there was no shift. Although Panetta did not explain it clearly, the plan all along has been to do something akin to what we did in Iraq, where we shifted to "advise and assist" late in 2010 in anticipation of exiting in December 2011. Similarly, in Afghanistan, U.S. forces will  shift to "advise and assist" in 2013 in anticipation of leaving in 2014.
Consistency notwithstanding, however, it’s still a terrible policy. In fact, our experience shifting to “advise and assist” in Iraq should serve as a cautionary tale. Once combat operations officially ended in Iraq, the new operating environment had deadly implications for U.S. troops.


The Iran containment fallacy

It has become increasingly fashionable in Jerusalem and Washington to advocate a military strike on Iran. Central to the case for war is the argument that a nuclear-armed Iran, unlike the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War or North Korea today, would be impossible to contain, and therefore attacking Iran is the “least bad option” to prevent an intolerable threat. Ehud Barak, Israel’s Minister of Defense, told an audience at the annual Herzliya security conference in early February that military action may soon be needed because “dealing with a nuclearized Iran will be far more complex, far more dangerous and far more costly in blood and money than stopping it today.”

Echoing this theme, former Bush administration official and current Mitt Romney adviser John Bolton recently called for an immediate bombing campaign on the grounds that attempting to contain Iran was futile. “The mullahs,” Bolton asserted, “do not buy our theories of deterrence.” And last Thursday, on Capitol Hill, 32 senators introduced a resolution urging President Obama to “oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.” Explaining the rationale, Senator Joe Lieberman said: “We . . . want to say clearly and resolutely to Iran: You have only two choices—peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear weapons program or expect a military strike to end that program.”
Yet, paradoxically, the most likely road to containment is the very course war proponents advocate: a near-term preventive strike on Iran's nuclear program.