Foreign Policy

Creating new standards of ethics for modern day warfare

If the recent breathtaking advances in communications and technology have changed our patterns of courtship (think Facebook, Twitter and Google ), they have changed even more dramatically how we fight wars today and how we will fight in the near future. Long gone are the days when one uniformed army squared off against another, when you could easily tell the combatant from the non-threatening civilian, and when the battlefield was clearly demarcated from residential neighborhoods and municipal public spaces. Non-state actors like al-Qaeda and Hamas, private militias and suicide bombers as well as lethal drones, car bombs and IED’s have changed who makes war today and how it is conducted.


Congress, the Taliban and money

The war in Afghanistan is winding down. Now comes the hard part.

Two weeks remain in the campaign for the presidency, and foreign policy will be in full view. Tonight's debate will focus on foreign affairs, and Afghanistan is sure to play a central role in these discussions. The big question surrounding everything will be: What next?


Crimes against humanity in South Kordofan and Blue Nile

The government of Sudan continues to carry out indiscriminate attacks and bombardment against civilian populations, block humanitarian aid, and commit other inhumane acts against its own people. This should not come as news to the U.S. government and the international community. But as the government of Sudan’s assault against its own civilians in the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile drags into a second year, powerful new evidence of Khartoum’s brutality continues to emerge, demanding that the international community act immediately to protect hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians.

This week, the Enough Project released two reports containing stark evidence of the government of Sudan’s perpetration of crimes against humanity in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The reports reveal the depravity with which Khartoum’s security forces operate and demonstrate the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the two states.


What the Cuban missile crisis teaches us about Iran

Fifty years ago this week, the world stood at the brink of a cataclysmic war. As the Cuban Missile Crisis grew more dangerous every day, President John F. Kennedy and his advisors directed quiet military and diplomatic efforts to avoid a disaster. Importantly, Congress allowed the President to do his job as commander in chief – a dynamic that was critical to a successful outcome.

If, however, President Kennedy had instead been the subject of excessive political interference, it’s not clear that he would have had the space available to negotiate a peaceful outcome with our adversaries in Moscow. And if he hadn’t done so, the result could have been nuclear Armageddon.


Smartmatic's bogus claims about Venezuela election

On October 7th, the eyes of many in the Americas were set on Venezuela. The reason? A presidential race that pitted one of the most phenomenal politicos our country has seen - Hugo Chavez - against a rather unprepared and naïve opponent - Henrique Capriles. For the record, I was not among the crowd of wishful believers in a possible victory for the opposition. Having shadowed the previous presidential candidate for the opposition in 2006, and having witnessed the obscene way in which all the resources and power of the State is used to favour the incumbent, I was expecting a Chavez victory, and wrote as much, repeatedly.

But imagine my surprise this morning, when I read an op-ed here, from Smartmatic's CEO, Antonio Mugica, praising his own company as a beacon of transparency, and extolling the democratic virtues of Venezuela's electoral system. Since I have been following the meteoric growth of Smartmatic since 2004, and have written thousands of words about its opaque ownership structure and business practices, I nearly chocked upon reading the brazen lies of Mr Mugica.


Growing oppostion to US drones program

The United States has a long history of violating international law when its leaders believe foreign policy objectives justify doing so. The belief in the right of the United States to overthrow democratically elected governments (Guatemala), to train and arm insurgencies (Nicaragua), and to launch aggressive wars (Iraq) free of the inconvenience of the law grows out of the nationalistic fervor of “American Exceptionalism.”

Currently, President Obama is directly overseeing a drones program that potentially violates a number of international legal norms. In October 2009, Philip Alston, then UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, stated that the drones program would be illegal if the U.S. was failing to take “all of the relevant precautions to make sure that civilians are not killed, in accordance with the relevant international rules.” Alston continued, “The problem is that we have no real information on this program.”


The reality of freedom of expression in the Muslim world

Following the aftermath of the release of the anti-Islamic film “Innocence of Muslims” and the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in France, some voices in the Muslim world called for the enactment of strict legislation to criminalize such defamation. Despite what some on Capitol Hill have expressed, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has not been one of those voices.


Sudan and South Sudan must choose peace

At a time when the world faces many competing crises, Sudan and South Sudan took a little noticed step last month, back from the brink of economic collapse and renewed conflict and toward security and prosperity. Both of these nations are fragile, and they will remain that way until they reach an understanding that allows them to live separately but work together. Last month’s agreement in Addis Ababa offers a roadmap for a different future, but its outcome will depend on the willingness of both sides to transform a paper agreement into a lasting accord.
The stakes are enormous. If this agreement is implemented, it could re-start the flow of oil, stabilize volatile border regions, initiate transitional security and financial arrangements, and lead to a process to resolve boundary disputes. Sudan and South Sudan have an opportunity to make real progress on the path to peace. They must not go backwards now.


Confronting the threat of Islamic terrorism

Last week, a group of Christian leaders sent a letter to every member of Congress asking that they investigate alleged human rights abuses in the Middle East. On October 8th, The Hill published a piece elaborating on their argument.  

No, these clergymen were not seeking to stop the slaughter of Muslims and Christians in Syria. And no, they didn’t demand action to end the massacre of Christians in Iraq and Egypt. They sought neither an end to Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons nor the cessation of renewed missile fire from Gaza into Israel’s southern cities. 

These clergymen were asking that Congress investigate alleged Israeli human rights abuses, and they suggested cutting our military aid to Israel in the process.   

Their concern for human rights is laudable.


Farm bill delay is exacerbating Brazil-U.S. cotton dispute:

Hollywood movie moguls and Nashville’s country music stars have a lot at stake in the omnibus farm bill currently languishing in Congress. Buried under the legislation’s arcane provisions on food stamps, farm commodity price supports and soil conservation programs lies a ticking time bomb that threatens all owners of intellectual property.
As a result of a long-simmering dispute between Brazil and the United States over the trade-distorting effects of U.S. cotton policies, Brazilians may soon be able to pirate movies, copy music CDs, rip off patented drugs and expropriate genetically-modified seed, all with the seal of approval of the World Trade Organization (WTO). And, if that happens, a precedent will be established for developed and developing countries alike to sidestep the protections afforded to holders of copyrights, patents and trademarks.