Foreign Policy

Rubio’s dreamless DREAM Act

The dictionary defines a dream as a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep and as an involuntary vision occurring to a person when awake. I wonder what was going on in Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) head when he conjured up his so-called “DREAM Act”.  Either he was plagued by a nightmare, or he was having a particularly bad day.

Unlike the real DREAM Act, which offers deserving undocumented youth a chance to earn an eventual shot at U.S. citizenship, Rubio’s proposal — the details of which have not yet been released — would consign them to a permanent underclass, allowed to physically remain in the U.S., but never to belong to the American family. As the French and German guest worker experience demonstrates, this is a recipe for social disaster.

Yet Rubio claims it’s necessary to prevent “chain migration” — an ugly term concocted by anti-immigrant extremists as code for “latino invasion”. Rubio has apparently bought the nativists argument that if they earn U.S. citizenship, DREAM Act beneficiaries will go on to sponsor their relatives from abroad, leading to more immigration. Not only is this notion legally baseless — the immigration law does not permit sponsorship of grandparents, cousins, or distant relatives—it makes no sense as a matter of policy.


Closing the market of the 'Merchant of Death'

For almost two decades, Viktor Bout reaped millions of dollars in profits running small arms and other contraband to some of the world’s most infamous villains. From Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, to civil wars in Africa, to the Afghan Taliban, his wares fueled violent conflict and claimed countless innocent lives. The 25-year sentence handed down by a New York court last week marks the end of an era, but it also underlines the unconscionable loopholes in existing national and international laws governing the activities of arms brokers that allowed Bout to operate with impunity for two decades—and continues to permit legions of successors to fill the void left in the illicit gray market for deadly weapons.

Out of work at the end of the Cold War, Viktor Bout identified a growing demand for conventional weapons in emerging hot spots from Africa to Southeast Asia. With an acquired fleet of surplus Soviet military aircraft, he launched an air transport business connecting weapons producers primarily in Eastern Europe to burgeoning new markets in the developing world. A sophisticated network of front companies and uneven global regulation allowed him to escape capture and prosecution. Over time his business diversified as his weapons became both a sought after commodity in their own right, and the currency to pay for other illicit goods. In addition to arms brokering, Bout was known to have been involved with former Liberian President Charles Taylor to trade diamonds for weapons in support of Sierra Leonean rebels. In South Asia, his aircraft arrived filled with weapons for the Taliban, and departed crammed with heroin destined for Western markets. Unfortunately, Third World dictators were not Bout’s only clients. His recent trial highlighted how the American and British governments also unwittingly used Bout’s aircraft to transport of war materiel to and from conflict zones.


Grabbing headlines in Afghanistan

As insurgents launched their first major attacks of the new spring offensive, global media outlets again seized the opportunity to question the effectiveness of security in Afghanistan as the international mission proceeds with plans for its drawdown.

Once the smoke clears and the numbers are tallied, such attacks often amount to military failure, particularly in Kabul. The latest count includes 17 dead insurgents and few, if any, government forces. Also similar to past attacks, they often prove to be useful public relations stunts. After all, these ground attacks were designed to score points on a different battlefield, the airwaves. By effectively grabbing headlines, the insurgency further complicates the international mission's task with global media. It continues to be a difficult uphill struggle.

In addition, a series of negative incidents in recent months have provided the rebels' cause with considerable boosts. These include accidental Koran burnings at an American base and the massacre of Afghan women and children implicating a US soldier.


Guess who is coming to Washington

Surprise! Foreign lobbying in the U.S. is on the rise despite the slightly declining role of the U.S. in the world economy. Additionally its face has changed. A decade ago, the majority of foreign clients of Washington, DC powerhouses were governments, embassies, and political parties. Nowadays, corporations, banks, trade associations, and NGOs bring most of the foreign cash to lobbying shops. This circumstance has serious policy implications. The State Department has tried to adjust to the change by introducing public diplomacy, but who cares?


P5+1 talks with Iran are a first step in long process

The U.S. and its European allies are set to begin a new round of negotiations with Iran this weekend, but while the U.S. enters the discussion in a position of strength, it is unclear whether real progress can be achieved in the near term. The talks, which will take place in Istanbul, mark the first direct negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program since previous talks collapsed more than 14 months ago. But though the reopening of dialogue is a clear first step, and may present a unique opportunity on the road to a final solution, the U.S. and its allies will need to pursue further diplomatic efforts in order to achieve a breakthrough.

There is some reason to believe that these talks may hold more promise than those of the past. Burdened by ever-tightening sanctions and the increasing threat of attack,Tehran may be more willing to negotiate. Early this week, Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, indicated that Iran might stop its production of 20 percent enriched uranium, but would prefer to continue to enrich uranium to lower levels for power generation. The enrichment issue lies at the heart of the dispute, since weapons-grade enrichment can be achieved more easily from 20 percent, fueling Western concerns that Tehran may be seeking an atomic weapon.


To change Cuba, stick with the Burma model

Advocates of “normalizing” relations with Cuba’s Castro regime continue to cite China and Vietnam as models of what can be gained by changing U.S. policy. Their argument is: Economic reform leads to political reform and America should be doing business with Cuba as nonchalantly as we do with China and Vietnam. 

Ironically Cuba’s dictator du jour, Raul Castro agrees, albeit his rationale is a bit different: Vietnam and China are “model states” proving that economic stability can be attained while preserving political absolutism. 

The time has come for reasonable people to admit that the China and Vietnam models have failed completely in achieving political reform and protecting the human rights of the repressed populations of both nations. 

There is, however, another Asian model that does seem to be working.


A real opportunity to remold nuclear policies for this century

The Obama Administration is currently preparing to review the size of America's
nuclear force -- and develop a plan for its future.

The Department of Defense will present the president with three options for
the size of our arsenal: high, medium, and low. The current stock of 1,550
deployed weapons mandated by the recently ratified New START Treaty will
represent the highest option.


Iranian-American Détente

A date finally has been set for a new round of talks between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P-5+1) – April 13th. This is good news, but it begs the broader question of how to resolve Iran’s conflict-prone relationships with the rest of the world.  There is an eerie similarity between the Islamic Republic’s now 33-year conflict with the US and its allies and the 45-year long US-Soviet Cold War. Eerily similar, but different in one major respect. Throughout the Cold War, the US and the USSR maintained a rich menu of negotiations, exchanges, and agreements. With rare exceptions, representatives of the US and Iran don’t even speak to one another – even when they’re in the same room. Current US policy makers would be well advised to learn the lesson of victory in the Cold War. Be tough when necessary, but conflicts only end through negotiations.
In the early years of the Cold War, the ideological struggle between the US and the Soviet Union was expressed by military confrontations in Europe and mutual threats of nuclear annihilation. As the years passed, the conflict evolved into back alley confrontations between covert operatives, economic sanctions, and wars by proxy armies. Yet, the two superpowers always maintained diplomatic relations and a broad and deep dialogue, including at the highest levels of government. As early as 1956, General Nathan Twining led a delegation of Air Force officials to Moscow, beginning a rich variety of military exchanges that flourished in later years and put a human face on the “enemy.”


Syria's unfolding tragedy and its impending spillover

As yet another diplomatic deadline passes with no compliance, Syria’s unfolding tragedy accelerates into a vicious downward cycle. Even a nominal cease-fire will only provide a temporary respite to fighting. Since the uprising’s start in March 2011, the Assad regime and opposition forces are further apart than ever. The conflict’s intensification is likely to shift to a bloodier phase, from relatively low intensity civil war to protracted conflict.

In retrospect, the crisis reached its point of no return some time ago. The narrow window of opportunity required a negotiated settlement from the very beginning. With more than 9,000 dead, too much blood has been shed. Arguably, the conflict is irreversible.

The standard pattern of buying diplomatic time to employ armed force to weaken opponents continues. Ultimately, the regime will acquiesce to negotiations solely requiring rhetorical concessions designed to placate international opinion and provide a face saving outlet for opponents. In exchange, Assad will accept nothing less than full compliance with his demands.


What new Passenger Name Record agreement means for U.S. travelers

On 27 March 2012, European lawmakers gave the green light to the Passenger Name Record agreement between the EU and the US. They supported the draft recommendation of the new agreement that would replace the agreement from 2007 that is currently still in force. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on the final text on April 19. If legislators reject it, the 2007 provisional agreement would continue to apply until it expires in July 2014.

The Passenger Name Record stores traveller’s journey information and allows all the different agents within the air industry (from travel agents and the computer reservation systems to the carrier and the handling agents at the airports) to have access to all relevant information related to his/her trip. This includes sensitive personal details, such as departure and return flights, connecting flights and special services required on board. The nature of information in a Passenger Name Record system will vary from airline to airline and from passenger to passenger and could expand to approximately 60 fields and sub-fields.