Foreign Policy

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.

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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.

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Egypt in transition

Today Egyptians celebrate the first anniversary of the uprising that ended three decades of authoritarian rule under Hosni Mubarak. In its rocky aftermath, the army took control, but the transitional process it set up created major advantages for Islamist parties, which were the only ones ready to run in elections. Egypt’s transition hasn’t gone as smoothly as Tunisia’s, and as the country’s economic situation grows more dire, the army has sought to wash its hands of its executive responsibilities as soon as possible.

So the outcome of Egypt’s first free elections since 1950 came as little surprise: Islamists won a majority of seats, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party winning a plurality. The FJP ran on a highly egalitarian platform, promising respect for democratic processes, gender equality and equal rights for Christians and other minorities.

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Landlubber diplomacy won't work in Fiji

In Samoa, when a tauta (landman) advances an opinion about fishing or navigation, he is met with the reply "O le va’ai le tauta" – or, "that is the opinion of a landlubber."

In response to Fiji’s 2006 coup, Australia and New Zealand have advanced a policy to force Fiji back to democracy. Based on a Eurocentric mindset that fails to take into account Fiji’s colonial history, complex ethnic mix and chiefly, provincial, religious and family rivalries, Australia and New Zealand imposed a wide range of sanctions on Fiji and cut off diplomatic channels. 

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Making our defense strategy work for this century

Earlier this month the Obama Administration published its new defense strategy, which will be linked to a reduced budget submission to Congress. As we approach the election and the threat of sequestration there will be increasing demand for changes to both these.
 
As we prepare for the president’s State of the Union speech, it is worth considering if further reductions in defense spending can be achieved while actually increasing our global national security.
 
As we fully comprehend the new 21st Century challenges and leave behind the outdated cold war threats, we at the American Security Project believe that the United Statesmust reassess the need for a massive, complex and realistically unusable nuclear arsenal.

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We must lead charge against Iran

In June 2009, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which opposition candidates and their supporters claimed was fraudulently won. It was the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that such large-scale protests took place, and the world watched closely as the beginnings of a democratic uprising in Iran appeared to take hold.

However, after thousands of arrests and nearly 100 deaths, the march toward freedom in Iran came to a crawl, and then to a halt, all within a matter of weeks. Unlike the uprisings during last year’s Arab Spring, the United States remained neutral during the 2009 Persian Awakening, as it’s been called, with President Obama arguing, “It's not productive given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling."

It took 30 years for the Iranian people to find themselves at a moment in history when they had the strength, in numbers and of will, to challenge the leadership in Iran. We do not know when that opportunity will come again, but when it does my hope is that the leadership in Washington will act with a clearer sense of conviction, and a keener sense of timing, than this administration did in 2009.

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Tighten the economic noose around Iranian regime

This month I had the privilege of traveling to the Mideast to meet with leaders from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The purpose of this trip was to learn more about Iran’s nuclear program and the potential consequences if they were to develop nuclear weapons. As we met with several top foreign dignitaries across the region, they emphasized that America must lead on this issue.

Let’s review the established facts: Iran is a state sponsor of international terrorism and vocal enemy of the United States and our regional ally, Israel. In recent years they have taken to killing our military men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. The clerics who rule the country aim to acquire a nuclear weapon, and soon, at any cost. Though estimates vary, Iran could have the bomb within a year. 

The Arab leaders we met with all fear that a nuclear Iran is likely to be far more assertive, and more inclined to intimidate its neighbors and threaten to disrupt international oil markets.  A regional arms race would likely ensue as neighboring countries seek to neutralize the Iranian threat. It’s also easy to imagine the proliferation of nuclear weapons to international regimes Iran’s leadership counts as friends, such as Venezuela or Cuba. In turn, a bomb-wielding Iran could well necessitate additional American security investment in the Mideast and beyond.

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US will appoint an ambassador to Burma

Secretary Clinton made the following remarks on Burma in the Treaty Room earlier today, following the release of some political prisoners.

Good morning. When I visited Burma in December on behalf of President Obama and the United States, I encouraged authorities to continue along the path of reform. In particular, I urged them to unconditionally release all political prisoners, halt hostilities in ethnic areas, and seek a true political settlement. This would broaden the space for political and civic activity, and by doing so, it would lay the groundwork to fully implement legislation that would protect universal freedoms of assembly, speech, and association. I also urged that they sever all illicit military ties with North Korea.
 
Since then, we have seen progress on several fronts. Today, I join President Obama in welcoming the news that the government has released hundreds of political prisoners, several of whom have languished in prison for decades. This is a substantial and serious step forward in the government’s stated commitment to political reform, and I applaud it, and the entire international community should as well. Aung San Suu Kyi has welcomed these dramatic steps as further indication of progress and commitment.

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We must change course on defense cuts

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

World War I killed 10 million civilians and military personnel (including 116,000 Americans). In the 1930s, America and the world endured the Great Depression and economic conditions that induced America, France, and the United Kingdom to cut defense spending while creating a breeding ground for fascism, Mussolini, Hitler, the Third Reich and Japanese imperialism. America offered a weakened military deterrence. World War II ensued, killing more than 60 million civilians and military personnel (including 416,000 Americans).

For seven decades, America has enjoyed the strongest national defense in world history. Why? Because our economy has been strong enough to pay for it. Because America learned from World War II and the Cold War that, as President Reagan said, “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression.”  

In August 2011, President Obama defeated Congressional conservatives and forced a Budget Control Act compromise that disproportionately hammers defense spending. National defense is 18 percent of total federal spending, yet takes 50 percent of the hit.

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We need a Commander-in-Chief who understands complexities of war

President Obama at times appears to live in a parallel universe all to his own. Let’s put aside his claims that 8.5 percent unemployment (up from 7.8 percent when he took office) is a sign our economy is improving,  what I find most disconcerting is his recent assertion that “the tide of war is receding.”

Is it really?  

The “Arab Spring” is now darkening into a cold “Arab Winter” as the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamists groups take majority control of the Egyptian government.

An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 medium and long-range missiles are stationed in Lebanon and pointed south at our staunchest ally in the region, Israel.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is right now traveling through Latin America and no doubt  strengthening alliances in the region. In addition, the Iranian Navy is staging aggressive war games in the Straits of Hormuz.

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