Foreign Policy

Charting a new course for the US ship of state

As the presidential race continues to heat up, media will become increasingly focused on what Americans think of both the current and potentially future leadership of the United States. A new survey released by the U.S.-Global Leadership Project, a partnership between Gallup and Meridian International Center, offers an equally important view--what the rest of the world thinks of U.S. leadership. The third annual U.S.-Global Leadership Track polled people in more than 130 countries on their approval or disapproval of American leadership. 

The results imply a great deal about the nature of our leadership. The U.S. cannot and should not try to lead alone – we’ve tried, it hasn’t worked. We share interests with many other governments, private companies, and NGOs, and by collaborating across these sectors, we can not only change perceptions of our leadership, we can make greater differences in the issues that drive those perceptions.


Benefits of joining the Law of the Sea Convention

My fictional hero, Capt. Jack Aubrey, of Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander" series of books always maneuvered his ship to "Hold the weather gage."  In the days of sail, the ship with the weather gage was at a tactical advantage relative to other ships. The ship with the weather gage had greater ability to maneuver, was better able to maintain its position of advantage, and dictated the terms of naval engagement. Joining the Law of the Sea Convention will provide the U.S. with the weather gage to address emerging challenges that threaten the nation, and enhance the Coast Guard's ability to safeguard the American people, our environment, and ocean resources that benefit all Americans.

Joining the Convention also will anchor Coast Guard international leadership for the U.S. in maritime affairs. The Coast Guard leads the United States delegation at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to properly govern-through a set of minimum safety and security standards-foreign flagged vessels entering our ports carrying almost 90% of goods that drive our economy. Through the IMO, the Coast Guard works to conclude maritime treaties that improve safety at sea, prevent marine pollution, ensure ship and port security, and provide standards for the training and certification of seafarers.


India cannot wean itself off Iranian Oil overnight

India is dependent for its economic future not just on exports, but on imports, particularly oil. Like many nations, India depends on foreign-produced crude to sustain its impressive growth. And as has been widely reported, Iran has been a large supplier of oil to India.

India understands the current political situation involving Iran. It knows that its allies – led by the U.S. - have decided to impose economic sanctions against Iran as a way to discourage its development of a nuclear-weapons program. As a result, India is taking serious and measured steps to diversify its oil imports to reduce its dependence on Iranian crude.

India’s critics accuse it of sleeping with the enemy by continuing to have any trade relationship with Iran. But what they don’t see – or fail to acknowledge – is that India has reassessed all of its business dealings with Iran and is changing its policies as a result. It is, in fact, scaling back its oil imports from Iran – steadily and surely.


Modest progress and an open door with Iran

A new round of talks with Iran has ended with modest progress -- particularly compared to previous futile attempts. The United States and its allies have agreed to meet again with Iran in Baghdad, May 23, ensuring that the diplomatic process will continue. 

In the meantime, pressure will continue to build on Iran. With even stronger US and European Union sanctions set to come into force this summer, and the burden of current sanctions still weighing heavily on Tehran, the incentive to compromise could be greater than ever.


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.