Foreign Policy

Window closing on two-state solution and US involvement in peace process

On November 29, 2012, a resolution enhancing the status of Palestine to Observer State passed with an overwhelming majority in the United Nations General Assembly. For the 138 countries who voted ‘yes,’ this resolution not only accorded the Palestinians the long overdue recognition of their right to self-determination, but also took a vital step towards salvaging the internationally endorsed two-state solution. Unfortunately, despite professing support for the two-state solution, the U.S. and Israel were not among this majority.

More than simply opposing this resolution, it is acknowledged that the U.S. has considered a number of punitive measures in response to the enhancement of Palestine’s status. The concept of punishing the Palestinians for a peaceful diplomatic step, aimed at injecting life back into the peace process, is illogical and unreasonable. Meanwhile, not holding Israel accountable for its numerous unilateral, provocative and illegal actions, including its settlement enterprise, annexation of East Jerusalem and siege of Gaza is equally damaging for the prospects of a just and lasting peace.

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US pivoting to the Pacific in a new century

Last month, when Barack Obama made his first foreign trip following his re-election as president of the United States, the country he chose to visit first was Thailand. The president’s choice was a welcome one. It reinforced both a long-standing friendship and a strategic relationship of increasing value in a new era that is now dawning.
 
Thailand is America’s oldest ally in Asia. In 2013, our countries will celebrate 180 years of diplomatic relations – ties that were established when Thailand was still an exotic far-off kingdom known as Siam. In this new century, as the U.S. pivots toward the Pacific, our partnerships in economic, security and development matters will serve as a strong foundation for America’s expanding engagement in the region.

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Guantánamo 55

As President Obama’s first term wore on, a signature plank of his 2008 campaign – his pledge to close Guantánamo – went from policy pillar to policy pariah. The political and popular hurdles to closure – legislation, funding restrictions, outcry in some quarters over terrorist trials – multiplied. The President’s bold act on his first day of office -- an executive order requiring closure of the detention center within the year -- gave way to the ratification of military commissions as an alternative to trials in federal courts, detention without charge was embraced, and transfers from the facility slowed to a trickle.  

After going mum on the topic for most of his 2012 campaign, Obama finally renewed his pledge to close Guantánamo during an appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart show in late October. This pledge will be put to the test even before his second term begins. The reauthorization of the National Defense Authorization Act, soon due for a final vote in Congress, will either offer the president more leeway to restart the machinery of Guantánamo closure, or offer another excuse to maintain the current paralysis. If the president’s campaign pledge means more this time around than it did in 2008, he must use the mandate he won in early November to veto this year’s NDAA if it hinders progress on Guantánamo.

Like a hard calculus equation, the conundrum of what to do with the 166 detainees still housed at Guantánamo is best addressed by breaking the problem into parts and solving them one by one. The obvious starting point is the 55 Guantánamo detainees who the administration named this September as cleared for transfer. Many of these men have been held in the facility for a decade or more where there are no grounds for continued detention. These are the relatively easy cases, men who the administration has no intent to charge with any crime. While the details of many of the cases remain secret, some Guantánamo experts assert that many if not all of these men may be cleared for release entirely, meaning that they are entitled to their freedom yet remain captive.

One well-known example in this group is Shaker Amer. He is a U.K. citizen, and the British government has repeatedly requested his transfer to be reunited with his wife and children in London. He remains held without charge. He said back in November 2005 that, "I am dying here every day, mentally and physically... We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for four years."

Three elements are critical right now to advance the transfer of the Guantánamo 55 and help close Guantánamo.

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Why I support Russia PNTR

While I have been critical of the approach that both Democratic and Republican administrations have taken to trade negotiations and enforcement in the past, the agreement before the Senate this week is a welcome step forward. The Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) agreement has stronger monitoring and enforcement measures to track Russia’s commitments made as part of its new membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
 
For too long, both Democratic and Republican administrations have negotiated trade agreements that undermine – rather than maximize – American job creation. These agreements have failed to demand that our trade partners follow the same rules that we do and do not hold our partners accountable when they don’t meet commitments to which they’ve agreed.

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Cooler heads prevailed on Disabilities Treaty

The Senate's defeat of the move to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities was not a defeat for Americans with disabilities, though it may seem that way to many. That is because of the vast disparity between our aspirations for this treaty on one hand, and the limitations of its text and deep flaws in the UN system in which it will be interpreted.
 
The 38 Senators who voted against ratification should be congratulated for seeing the basic contradiction in calls for ratification. Proponents said we could have it both ways — an international rights committee powerful enough to change other countries’ laws but too weak to interfere with our own.

Proponents of ratification failed to show how this would demonstrate U.S. leadership on this issue or for promoting a proper understanding of international law.

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Settlement construction threatens two-state solution and Israel

The elections in the United States and those that are scheduled soon in Israel provide an opportunity to reignite the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
At such a political crossroad, the consequence of taking a wrong turn is grave.

The breakthrough in Oslo failed to culminate into a permanent peace agreement in spite of the 19 years that has passed since. But while the peace process stalled, demographic realities continued and today we face, within just a few years, an emerging Arab majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River – the small strip of land that is home to Jews and Arabs. No wonder then that many Israelis who yearn for peace and who fear that Israel is losing its Jewish and democratic character are seeking refuge in a unilateral Israeli initiative.

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How Obama can avoid McCain's trap on Rice

Will the revenge of the Rockefeller Republicans help President Obama a second time – this time with his political dilemma regarding appointing Susan Rice as Secretary of State?

While largely unchronicled, in the closing days of the campaign, Rockefeller Republicans rebuffing Romney, helped President Obama nail down his re-election.  The President had reason to be concerned about Romney’s national edge amongst Independents and whether he would get enough votes from moderate independents from the suburbs.  In the end, Rockefeller Republicans helped Obama forge his 51-47 percent victory.

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Objections to Disabilities Treaty don't stand up to scrutiny

Today's the vote that will decide the Disabilities Treaty. We're just a few short hours away.

I was up late last night getting ready for the final floor debate, and I searched Twitter to see what folks were saying.
There's obviously a lot of good and needed activism happening, and that's gratifying.

But there's also a lot of misinformation being spread to defeat the Treaty -- and that's the nature of democracy -- we should debate the issues fully and rigorously -- and yes -- loudly. And I for one like to see what people are saying, especially the people who don't agree with me. I don't believe in a politics where we just dismiss those who see the world differently, but instead I believe in a dialogue where we engage them.

So I spent some time reading the tweets of folks who don't yet agree we should approve the Treaty.

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Missing the point on Benghazi

As an ex-Foreign Service Officer with service in Libya, I am increasingly appalled by the outright politics swirling around Benghazi and its irrelevance to the tragedy of four American diplomats including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a former colleague and friend in the State Department. Both the focus on who knew and said what when and the search for a scapegoat in UN Ambassador Susan Rice entirely miss the point. Amb. Rice had no operational responsibility for Libya whatsoever and, as widely noted, her case is in sharp contrast to that of her namesake, Condoleezza Rice, who also gave inaccurate public testimony but, as NSC Advisor, was at least involved in shaping U.S. policy on WMD in Iraq. Yet many of the same senators now attacking Susan Rice voted with fulsome praise to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. The purely political nature of the debate is all too obvious in Senator Lindsay Graham's Nov. 28 press comments comparing Susan Rice's possible nomination as Secretary with George W Bush's recess appointment to the UN of John Bolton.

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Penalizing Palestinians will not help peace process

When it comes to shielding Israeli human rights violations and squelching Palestinian freedom and self-determination, Congress never misses an opportunity to reward Israeli intransigence and punish peaceful Palestinian initiatives. 

The Senate defines a “non-germane amendment” as one “that would add new and different subject matter to, or may be irrelevant to, the bill or other measure it seeks to amend.” Senators are now piling on these “non-germane amendments” to the National Defense Authorization Act in a vindictive move designed to penalize Palestinians, the United Nations and even any country that supports Palestinian statehood following last Thursday's 138-9 vote in the General Assembly to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of a “non-member observer state.”

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