Foreign Policy

Hearing was not Hagel's or Senate's finest hour

I watched with utter dismay this week as former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel tried to respond to a blatant, coordinated inquisitorial attack for nearly eight hours by his fellow Republican executioners at the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.
If many of the GOP solons hoped to dissuade idealistic American youth from public service, they surely succeeded beyond all expectations. With little exception, Senators McCain, Graham, Cruz, Inhofe, Ayotte, Sessions, Fischer and others displayed behavior at times that can best be described by the following adjectives:

- Bullying
- Angry
- Closed-minded
- Self-righteous
- Condescending
- Egotistical
- Callow, sophomoric
- Spiteful


Mounting nuclear and missile menace

The security news from abroad hasn’t been good for ol’ Uncle Sam lately, especially the alarming headlines coming from North Korea and Iran, which tell troubling tales of advancing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Not only is this worrisome, it also provides plenty of warning of some of the hot issues we’d better take firmly into account as we develop strategies such as the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review and prioritize Pentagon budgets.

Just last week, North Korea provocatively announced to the world — but especially for its sworn enemy, the United States, to hear--its intention to conduct a third nuclear weapons test sometime soon, following tests in 2006 and 2009.  

Some experts believe the purpose of the newest test, when it comes, is to further refine North Korea’s ability to develop a nuclear warhead for placement atop the various ballistic missiles in its inventory.

This is no small matter.


Tackling Azerbaijan's corruption

In his op-ed entitled “Armenia and Azerbaijan: Arriving at a fair and honest discourse,” Emil Agazade, while touching on issues only peripheral to my original article and best suited to his interests, passes all limits of journalistic ethics and crosses into the boundary of hate and ignorance.

Instead of attempting to give Congress a counter-lesson on history and geopolitics, I would highly suggest that Emil Agazade first help put his own house in order. Transparency International consistently ranks Azerbaijan among the most corrupt countries of the world, and its president Ilham Aliyev was recently named the “world’s most corrupt leader” by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Journalists in the country continue to suffer from violence and threats, and pro-democracy activists have been beaten and imprisoned in recent years. The European Parliament has explicitly condemned Azerbaijan for “increasing number of incidents of harassment, attacks and violence against civil society and social network activists and journalists in Azerbaijan.”


Christian Armenia's government and Islamic Iran's mullah's: The strategic partnership upclose

Harout Harry Semerdjian has courageously detailed the unusually deep and far-reaching strategic relationship between Christian Armenia and Islamic Iran ("Christian Armenia and Islamic Iran: An unusual partnership explained"). However, two crucial points have been ignored in the article, making it fundamentally flawed.

Firstly, no one is, or can, blockade Armenia, despite what some commentators feel. It is not possible for two out of four neighbors to “blockade” Armenia, especially since with one of the supposedly “blockading” neighbors, Turkey, there is an annual trade turnover to the tune of $200 million (which is an enormous figure for Armenia), and open airspace, with regular flights. Instead, it is Armenian government that has blockaded its own nation by being hostile, Turcophobic, and anti-Azerbaijani since its independence.


Hagel's views on Cuba are in sync with leading democracy advocates

Chuck Hagel has long been an outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Cuba. Since President Obama nominated him to serve as Pentagon chief, hardline defenders of the status-quo have been quick to accuse the former Senator from Nebraska of supporting legislation that would allegedly provide a lifeline to the Castro leadership. One of them, pro-embargo lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone, even serves on the board of an outside group named Americans for Strong Defense, whose aim is to thwart Hagel’s nomination through paid TV attack ads.
However, as the Senate prepares to question Hagel on his position on Cuba, it should be aware of an incredible irony: Hagel has been accused of being
“soft on Castro” for espousing views that are almost entirely in sync with those of the Island’s leading pro-democracy advocates.


Argentine pensioners decry mistreatment by their government

On Thursday, a private delegation of Argentines will visit the U.S. Capitol to recount to members of Congress their personal experience of living with the Argentine government’s refusal to honor its debts for more than a decade. In addition to conducting a series of meetings with Congressional staffers, the pensioners will be part of a Capital Hill briefing co-hosted by Freedom House and American Task Force Argentina (ATFA) that will explore the erosion of civil liberties in Latin America's second largest economy.


Iran reset: Challenges for next four years

During WWII, Winston Churchill famously opined that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing---after they’ve tried everything else!” Today, those very words aptly describe U.S. policy towards Iran.

While engagement has only emboldened Tehran, and sanctions have proven to be insufficient, military action risks Armageddon. As the president begins his second term, he should be convinced that “everything else” has already been tried; it is now time to do “the right thing,” when it comes to Iran policy.
Last October’s, albeit belated, administration decision to remove the principal Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), from an unjustified State Department blacklist -- was clearly the first step in the right direction.


What EU data protection can do for growth

One year ago, ahead of the European Data Protection Day 2012, the European Commission proposed a root and branch reform of the EU’s data protection rules to make them fit for the 21st century. One year after the reform proposals, it’s easy to see why clear and modernized rules are needed.

New rules are needed which both protect citizens’ rights and facilitate business in the digital age. The Lisbon Treaty provides a legal basis for strengthened data protection safeguards for citizens. A key objective of the reform proposals therefore is to increase individuals’ control over their personal data, thereby boosting confidence and trust in the digital economy. We must ensure that data protection standards keep pace with emerging technologies and new business models.

We live in a digital world in which personal data has enormous economic value. Just look at the figures: while in 1993 the Internet carried only 1 percent of all telecommunicated information, by 2007, this figure was more than 97 percent. In 2011 the European market for cloud computing services had a value of €3.5 billion for software products and €1.1 billion for hardware products. Estimates for 2014 predict that this market will grow to €11 billion. This is exponential growth. With more than 1 billion people worldwide connected to smartphones, an increasing variety of data can now be linked to individual identities. The insights that can be derived from linking previously separate bits of data have become essential for business and for innovation.

Europe needs to take advantage of this new computing and information-sharing landscape. We need rules that don't penalize companies for working cross-border. We need a solid legislative framework that will protect citizens and at the same time allow companies to take advantage of Europe's digital single market, with 500 million potential customers. Some estimates show that EU GDP could grow by a further 4% by 2020 if the EU takes the necessary steps to create a modern digital single market.


Four months after Benghazi, questions remain unanswered

This past Wednesday, Secretary Hillary Clinton appeared, for what is likely her final time as Secretary of State, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Although I am grateful for Secretary Clinton’s testimony and her service to our nation, the American people still have many questions and countless security concerns that remain unanswered.


Women in combat decision raises more questions than it answers

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that the U.S. military services will drop the long-standing prohibition on women in combat, a move that came as a surprise to many of us. So far, the new policy has been met with acclaim from the media, the president and some members of Congress. But are they jumping the gun in celebrating this development?
As an infantry officer who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, I have led men in combat and trained them on tactics and strategy. The mission of the infantry is to "close with, and destroy, the enemy." Our job, in a direct way, is to fight and win wars. These are tasks alone are difficult enough. Systematically introducing women to combat arms positions — where they would be tasked with offensive operations on a daily basis — complicates the core mission of our war fighters.