Foreign Policy

Looking back at Reykjavik

Twenty-five years ago, on October 11-12, 1986, Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavík, Iceland and came close to agreeing to eliminate their nuclear arsenals within 10 years.  The main sticking point was the US “Star Wars” missile defense technology.  Reagan wouldn’t give up its development and future deployment, and Gorbachev wouldn’t accept that.
The two men had the vision and the passion to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, but a difference of views about the role of missile defenses kept them from concluding an agreement.  For Reagan, these defenses were seen as protective and helpful.  For Gorbachev, these defenses upset the strategic balance between the two countries by making the possibility of US offensive attacks more likely.   
            The summit at Reykjavik was a stunning moment in Cold War history.  It was a moment when two men, leaders of their respective nuclear-armed countries, almost agreed to rid the world of its gravest danger.  Both were ready to take a major leap from arms control negotiations to nuclear disarmament.  Rather than seeking only to manage the nuclear arms race, they were ready to end it.  Their readiness to eliminate these weapons of annihilation caught their aides and the world by surprise.  Unfortunately, their passion for the goal of abolition could not be converted to taking the action that was necessary.


Korea: The starting line to America’s trade with Asia

In the sluggish, swamp-like heat of Washington this past summer, even progress on pro-growth policies with bipartisan support came grinding to a halt, leaving the pending trade agreement between South Korea and the United States in legislative purgatory for the fourth straight year.

Unfortunately, this summer was different than the previous four. Washington’s partisan bickering put America’s businesses and workers at a distinct competitive disadvantage as the European Union breezed past us and implemented a trade agreement with South Korea on July 1.

This shifted the discussion over trade agreements beyond a debate about creating jobs in America, and into a dispute over retaining America’s global competitiveness.  With the EU-South Korea agreement in effect, more than 90 percent of European goods are now entering the Korean market duty free.  In just July, this led to a 36 percent increase in exports for European companies over the year before. Meanwhile, U.S. exports to South Korea increased by just 3 percent in the same period.

It’s not just the EU that is beating the United States to reaching consumers in Asia.  The number of trade agreements worldwide is exploding, with more than 300 agreements in force and 150 more in various stages of completion. Korea, for example, has FTAs in force with 45 countries and more in the pipeline. By contrast, the United States has entered into just two FTAs with Asia-Pacific countries: Singapore and Australia.


Afghanistan ten years on – measuring are we winning ?

This week marks ten years of our involvement in Afghanistan; during that time our servicemen and women have demonstrated astounding courage. We routinely stand in awe of their efforts and their sacrifices which are in the best tradition of what America puts forward. But we should also be asking: are we winning?

In raising this question, it is important to ask what winning means. President Obama has laid out his Afghanistan strategy in three broad pillars: defeating al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from overthrowing the government, and building the capacity of the Afghan Army and government.

While these are all laudable goals, in defining two-thirds of our strategy by absence – no al Qaeda and no Taliban – President Obama created an end state that cannot ever be reached. And the other third of the strategy as something indefinable: “good enough” governance by Afghans.

Without any commonly agreed-to set of circumstances that define these goals we lack the means to tell whether the war is being won or not.


Congress' critical role in Sudan

How could U.S. policy toward South Sudan over the last decade be so successful, and its policy toward Sudan be such an abject failure?  The answer to that question partially holds the fate of millions of Sudanese who remain trapped in a state at war with its own people on four fronts and ruthlessly repressing all forms of unarmed opposition.

Over the last three presidential administrations, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have worked closely together to demand that Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama craft policies that supported the aspirations of the people of South Sudan.  This led to the isolation of the Khartoum regime in the mid to late 1990s, the securing of a peace deal in 2005 between North and South Sudan, and the successful referendum and independence of South Sudan earlier this year.  Throughout this time, Congress often was far out front of each of the three administrations, pressing for more active engagement by the Executive Branch and keeping its eye on the strategic prize: the self-determination referendum for the South.

It worked.


Not So happy anniversary

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of American involvement in the Afghanistan War, which began in October 2001 when American, British and Afghan Northern Alliance launched an attack against the Taliban leadership and the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. 
The duration of World War II was seven years.
World War I lasted four years.
The death and carnage of the U.S. Civil War consumed 1861 to 1865. 
President Barack Obama has pledged that U.S. combat troops will finally come out of that country by the end of 2014, two more long years, extending the war to at least 12 years.  Already, the neo-conservatives such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are beating the drums to continue a large-scale American troop presence beyond 2014.


Congress needs to investigate a corrupt Palestine Investment Fund

In a twist that almost certainly violates U.S. law, American taxpayers are unwittingly contributing to a Palestinian sovereign wealth fund controlled in part by the terrorist group Hamas.

The entity in question -- crying for a congressional inquiry -- is the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), which the Palestinian Authority created in 2002 to manage and distribute its money and commercial interests. Nearly a decade later, officials say Hamas has gained control over some of the fund’s key assets.

From Washington’s perspective, the conflict of interest is clear. Several U.S. organizations contribute to the PIF, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which provided 50 percent of the funding for the PIF’s Affordable Mortgage and Loan Program (AMAL), a total of $241 million. The Washington-based Middle East Investment Initiative (MEII), a non-profit where former secretary of state Madeleine Albright sits on the board, owns 15 percent of AMAL.

OPIC and MEII also support the fund’s Loan Guarantee Program, as does the U.S. Agency for Internal Development, which provided $2 million for technical assistance, according to the fund’s annual report.


Obama administration must act now to stop Darfur’s genocidal mastermind, Omar al-Bashir

The man wanted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court is getting away with murder. Again. And, again, we are failing to do anything about it.

Perhaps in today’s political climate – an economy in trouble, skyrocketing unemployment, criticism of U.S. foreign policy decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan and a heated election on the horizon – it’s unrealistic to expect the United States to act on a conflict half way around the world that is receiving little public attention.  By failing to act, however, the Obama administration is making it easier for a murderous head of state to continue killing innocent men, women and children with impunity.

Sudan’s president and architect of the Darfur genocide, Omar al-Bashir, began aggressive attacks on civilians in Sudan’s border regions this summer while Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was applauding Sudan for allowing the south to secede and create the Republic of South Sudan.

Sudanese forces have driven half a million people from their homes throughout Sudan this year. United Nations reports indicate the likelihood of ethnic cleansing in Abyei, and war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Kordofan. We suspect similar atrocities are occurring in Blue Nile.


Peace or a 'powder keg' in North Africa

As Libya’s interim leadership, with help from NATO, moves closer to finishing off Qaddafi’s tyranny, the U.S. and international community now must develop the details of how they will support the National Transitional Council as the new government of Libya.  

There are great prospects but also daunting challenges and risks for Libyans and their new leaders as well as for others in the region.  For U.S. policymakers, there is an historic opportunity: not just to nurture a democratic Libya, but to build on the Arab Spring and to seek a reset of relations in North Africa.

Qaddafi’s departure opens the door to greater integration in the Maghreb—essential for generating much-needed stability, economic growth, and improved security cooperation that will sustain and secure continuing democratic reforms across the region.

In particular, Qaddafi’s departure removes one of the last remaining supporters of the militant separatist Polisario Front.  The decades-old Western Sahara dispute has for too long been an intractable obstacle blocking any real Maghreb unity.


US-Cuba policy, and the race for oil drilling

To protect the national interest — and for the sake of Florida's beaches and the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem — it is time to stop sticking our heels in the sand when it comes to U.S.-Cuba policy.
Before the end of the year, a Chinese-made drilling platform known as Scarabeo 9 is expected to arrive in the Gulf.  Once it is there, Cuba and its foreign partners, including Spain’s Repsol, will begin using it to drill for oil in waters deeper than Deepwater Horizon’s infamous Macondo well.  The massive rig, manufactured to comply with U.S.-content restrictions at a cost of $750 million, will cost Repsol and other companies $407,000 per day to lease for exploration.
They are taking this financial risk because Cuba needs the oil and its partners — Spain, Norway, Russia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada, Angola, Venezuela, and possibly China — believe that drilling in waters said to contain undiscovered reserves of approximately 5 billion barrels of oil is good business.


Don't put international cooperation on Iran at risk

During Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN last week, many attendees turned their backs and walked out. Although they were reacting to another anti-West tirade by the embattled president, the reaction was also indicative of Iran’s own increasing isolation over its human rights abuses, its destabilizing role in the region, and of course, its nuclear program.

In the past month, we have seen a legal spat between Russia and Iran over Moscow’s cancellation of an air-defense system contract, news of Chinese firms slowing investment in Iran’s critical energy sector, and Turkish agreement to host a missile defense radar unofficially geared towards the missile threat from Iran. These are not the usual suspects. But between Iran’s own refusal to cooperate with international inspectors on its nuclear program and careful diplomatic outreach by the United States to convince other countries to take the Iranian threat seriously, global pressure on Iran is increasing.

This steadily growing international partnership to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions is vital to influencing Iran’s decision-making about its nuclear program. According to the U.S. intelligence community, Tehran has not yet made the decision to build a nuclear weapon. The task therefore, is to prevent Iran’s Supreme Leader from making that decision, and making the continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons option as difficult, expensive, and risky as possible.