Foreign Policy

'Sesame Street' remains on hold for Palestinian children

Apologists for Israel’s continued occupation and control over Palestinian lives have long contended Israel is more interested in peace than the Palestinians. One exaggerated argument, repeatedly put forward to justify military rule, is that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews.
Politicians in the U.S., especially during election campaigns, find that bashing Palestinians has no downside and yields a vote (and donation) jackpot.
Palestinian textbooks are scrutinized for any hostile reference to Israel – or praise for Palestinian nationalism – and every frame broadcast on Palestinian television stations is analyzed by experts to see if it contains any incitement to violence.
Palestinian-Israeli committees spent hours researching these issues and concluded that there is no textbook glorification of violence or hate. European and bipartisan American committees reached similar conclusions. But the anti-Palestinian attacks never stopped. All the efforts to respond scientifically and comprehensively to the unsubstantiated barrage of attacks failed to change the narrative that anti-Palestinian forces, especially in the United States, were keen on perpetuating.


Fresh ideas for modernizing global trade rules

Congress may be gridlocked on a number of issues, but the World Trade Organization (WTO) is positively stuck when it comes to advancing global trade liberalization. Today, the National Foreign Trade Council proposed a way to get beyond the diplomatic logjam that has plagued negotiations for a Doha Development Round in a new paper, “A 21st Century work program for the global trading system.”
Acceptance is the first step to recovery, and in the case of ongoing WTO negotiations, it is past time to admit that there is a problem. Trade Ministers acknowledged the Doha negotiations were at an impasse in Geneva last December at a WTO ministerial conference, leaving the door open to fresh ideas for advancing broad-based efforts to open markets and modernize trade rules.


Vietnam and Afghanistan: The more things change...

Two lengthy and devastating wars separated by three decades.

 One fought in the jungles of Vietnam and one in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.

 In Vietnam, American forces peaked at 535,000 troops. In Afghanistan, over 140,000, including international forces.

 One of us served in Vietnam in the pacification program designed to win the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people. The other worked in Afghanistan and Iraq in both a military and civilian capacity. We both resigned from our posts because of objections to U.S. policies in the country and because we witnessed conditions on the ground that disproved the rosy view expressed by America's military and civilian leaders.

America’s leaders have difficulty admitting to bad news in major overseas adventures.

Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Earle Wheeler told the Economic Club of Detroit in 1967:  “I am convinced . . .we are winning the war in Vietnam.” General William Westmoreland, who commanded American forces in Vietnam, argued “Militarily, we succeeded in Vietnam. We won every engagement we were involved in out there.” 

By 1975, American military forces had departed the region under the guise of "Vietnamization" and the South Vietnamese forces were soon routed thereafter, with the last American helicopters leaving the roof of the American embassy with panicked Vietnamese left behind.

History is repeating itself in Afghanistan.


Syria: Into the abyss

With Syria already in civil war, the focus must be preventing a sectarian bloodbath and regional spillover. As violence increases dramatically, options must include alternative measures beyond the United Nations Security Council. The logical initial step is an ad hoc coalition of key international players.  However, such a grouping must be prepared to take firm action as dictated by necessity while treading carefully. The unfortunate reality is that a bloody protracted stalemate in Syria can ensue indefinitely. 
Furthermore, plans must be made for all types of assistance. But actual aid must be largely determined in proportion to realities on the ground. As civilian casualties mount exponentially, safe-zones and accompanying measures must be tabled sooner rather than later. However, any direct form of military intervention must be a last resort.  Frankly, Syria is not Libya. A geographical image of Syria alone speaks more than a thousand words. Politically, diplomatically and militarily, the Syrian crisis is far more complex and less containable than Libya.
Further negotiations at the U.N. Security Council are unlikely to yield concrete dividends anytime soon. Nonetheless, the international community has an obligation to continuously attempt to find ways to reduce violence. Even the remote chance of achieving a temporary breakthrough can spare loss of innocent life.


Sanctions, technology and human rights in Syria

Sadly, things are not getting better for the people of Syria – just this past weekend residents of Homs experienced some of the worst violence since the Syrian government began attacking civilian protesters nearly one year ago. If there is good news, it is that recent actions by President Barack Obama and the Senate that demonstrate the United States’ willingness to hold perpetrators like Bashar al-Assad – as well as countries and corporations that enable their brutal actions – accountable.

President Obama strongly condemned the Syrian government’s latest assaults against the people of Homs, and his Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice issued a scathing criticism of China and Russia after the two nations vetoed a U.S.-led Security Council resolution Saturday that would have backed a transition to democracy in Syria and sent a strong unified message to Assad. The Senate Banking Committee – with much less notice but deserving equal praise – advanced a bill last week that would impose tougher sanctions on Assad’s regime and take important steps to prevent technology companies from assisting and profiting from the Syrian government.


Save the prosperity infrastructure

In declaring last month that he won’t abide by rulings of the main international forum for settling investment disputes, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is following in the footsteps of Argentina’s leaders, whose brazen behavior is encouraging other nations to ignore the legal framework that gives investors confidence to invest trillions of dollars in faraway projects essential to global economic growth.
Chavez told a television audience on Jan. 8: “We have to get out of that ICSID, and I tell you, We will not recognize any ICSD decisions.” Venezuela has 21 cases pending before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, totaling $40 billion, or one-tenth of the country’s gross domestic product. The claims stem from expropriations of the assets of such U.S. energy companies Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron as well as Europe’s Repsol, ENI, and Staoil.


Obama's rash Afghan decision

President Obama’s decision to end America’s combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2013 is operationally premature, seriously undermines the international mission and is clearly politically motivated by the 2012 elections. It marks a disorderly step in a withdrawal process that the U.S. and its NATO allies had long planned.

Inevitably, Republican presidential candidates will seize this opportunity to label Mr. Obama as weak and his foreign policy as appeasement.  Politics aside, the president’s decision is strategically irresponsible to say the least.


Sending a clear message on Egypt

Representatives from the military council that has been ruling Egypt since Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power last February are in Washington this week for a series of official meetings. Their visit comes amid a continuing crackdown inside Egypt against civil society that included an armed raid last December 29 on the offices of ten non-governmental organizations, including the U.S.-based International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and my organization, Freedom House. Despite promises made by Egyptian authorities to the highest levels of the U.S. Government, we remain closed, our computers, files, and cash still in the possession of the Ministry of Justice, and our staffs continue to face hostile interrogation by investigating judges. Nowhere else in the world has any of our offices been raided as they were in Egypt.

During their visit, the Egyptian delegation needs to hear a clear and consistent message from both Capitol Hill and the administration: U.S. assistance to Egypt – which totals $1.3bn to the military alone, about a fifth of Egypt's military budget – depends on the administration’s being able to certify to Congress that the Egyptian government is taking steps to move toward civilian government and protect civil liberties; recent developments make such certification impossible. This will trigger a suspension in American aid to Cairo, and only a clear and irreversible end to the campaign against civil society organizations, foreign as well as Egyptian, can lift this suspension. Moreover, U.S. support for desperately needed loans from the International Monetary Fund will be difficult to muster as long as the Egyptian authorities run roughshod over civil society.


Azerbaijan too important an ally for diplomatic ping pong

The recent recall of the recess-appointed American Ambassador to Azerbaijan is just another mis-step in our relations with a very important ally, Azerbaijan. The diplomat in waiting, Mathew Bryza, had to return from Baku after the Senate blocked the confirmation of this clearly qualified emissary.  Appointed by President Obama during last year’s legislative break, Ambassador Bryza’s posting expired, and now this important Embassy posting returns to its unacceptably long “vacant” status.

As a former member of the House, I understand local politics and the need to represent certain constituents, but as a former member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, I believe we must always put the national interest first. Azerbaijan is a proven ally, and forging a good relationship with this emerging power in the South Caucasus is clearly in America’s best interest. There is no room for partisanship when we conduct our country’s foreign policy.

With a population of a little over 9 million, Azerbaijan has sought to align itself with the United States since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The nation, roughly the size of Maine, is located on the Western Shores of the Caspian Sea. The strategic importance of this location has been recognized since the time of the Silk Road and is highlighted by today’s need to move materiel and troops to and from NATO forces in Afghanistan and makes it of profound geopolitical significance.


Cooperation with Gulf allies essential

A noticeable increase in tension between Iran and its neighbors demands closer defense and security cooperation between the United States and its key Arab partners in the region.  While the U.S. and its Gulf allies rightly continue to focus on diplomacy to hinder Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there is more that can be done between our defense establishments to achieve deterrence, and to be better prepared for any outcome.

For their part, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have invested varying degrees of resources to establish themselves as vital economic hubs, servicing the region and the global economy.  Further, each country has a community of American workers and the presence of U.S. military bases and personnel.  In addition to the free flow of energy through the Strait of Hormuz, each country’s economy increasingly depends on the unabated movement of international trade through their sea and air ports.