Foreign Policy

One month in Benghazi

Akram, the first Free Libyan I met, as I crossed the Egypt-Libya border at the end of March, proved to be the perfect Ambassador for the revolution. Twenty years old, the tenth of eleven children, Akram had never visited Tripoli and only been to the border twice; he had been studying to be a pharmacist but his secret passion had been heavy metal music and that world of freedom beyond Ghadafi’s Libya, which Facebook and Skype had opened to him. Through song lyrics and his online friendships, he had developed accent-free and colloquial English and was now acting as a volunteer guide for the first UK mission to the National Council in Benghazi. 

Throughout our seven hour drive he described with intense enthusiasm how the rebellion had grown from the regime’s brutal suppression of a students and lawyers demonstration in Benghazi just six weeks earlier into a spontaneous mass revolt which had swept aside Ghadafi’s 42 years of oppression.  But not yet completely - Akram was clear: the revolution would remain incomplete while Ghadafi and his family remained in Tripoli, while the rest of Libya still suffered. Akram really wanted to be at the front with the other young revolutionaries but had been asked to volunteer for this other duty. And he did it well. Before we had reached the National Council HQ which would be our base for the next weeks, Akram’s pure enthusiasm had gone a long way to convincing us that the international community had been wholly right to intervene to protect the Libyan people’s struggle for freedom.


After bin Laden: The religious freedom imperative

The violent death of Osama bin Laden ends the life of a terrorist who had blazed a terrifying trail of murder and other atrocities.  His notorious life provides a cautionary tale. It highlights not only what can happen when nations let down their security guard, but when they ignore the worst violations of a fundamental human right – the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Much has been written about how, prior to the September 11 attacks, the United States failed to take seriously the security threats posed by bin Laden and like-minded extremists and the bloody trail of attacks that began with the first assault on the World Trade Center in 1993.
Yet there was another trail that was being carved at that time – the trail of nations harboring bin Laden and other violent religious radicals. Each of these nations was a serial abuser of the human rights, and particularly the religious freedom, of its people.   


Kazakhstan making steady progress against corruption

Think of developing countries in the post Soviet sphere and corruption immediately comes to mind. But there should be one exception: the Republic of Kazakhstan, which won its independence from the Soviet Union 20 years ago. 

Transparency International widely publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index and Kazakhstan has been getting better grades for years. In 2010, Kazakhstan moved 15 places in the rankings to 105 out of the 178 countries rated. In 2009, it sat at 120.

The improvement is part of a purposeful trend. Fighting corruption is and has been an important priority in Kazakhstan.


Will Palestinian bonds be legal after Hamas joins the unity government?

The BBC reports that an investment firm recently began selling the Palestinian government’s first-ever bonds. While these securities are now legal under United States law, next week, they might not be.

Lawmakers now have nine days in which to determine the status of Palestinian bonds before Hamas – which the U.S. Treasury and Congress rightly designate as a terrorist organization – is expected to officially become part of a newly unified Palestinian government.


Time for legislation on Bahrain

On Friday, Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing on Bahrain’s deteriorating human rights conditions following its February crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Such hearings have rarely catalyzed change in U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis oppressive regimes, especially those symbiotically related to the U.S. such as China.

If accepting and rationalizing a noncommittal stance on Bahrain’s human rights abuses, Congress, like the Obama administration, will look to security interests. Bahrain’s hosting the Navy’s Fifth Fleet is a critical asset for operations in the region and Iran’s containment. While Bahrain disproportionately benefits from this arrangement, the threat of a lose-lose scenario, Iran’s gain, trumps ideological action for a realist-oriented U.S.


The Benghazi free press

Recently I’ve been getting to know better the Benghazi press corps – not the foreign correspondents who pass through Benghazi on their way to and from the front line -  but the budding local talent.  

The new generation of free Libyan journalists have set themselves up in the burned out remains of the Courthouse building. There you will find correspondents for 7 newspapers, of a sort. Finding enough of the proper kind of paper for the print edition is just one of their challenges. There are also a number of radio stations, some of which can be heard in Tripoli and the other areas which Gadhafi’s forces still control. And of course there is Free Libya TV (also known as al-Ahar TV) broadcasting from Doha but possibly moving soon to Benghazi. 


The consequences of Bahrain’s Kristallnacht

Over the weekend it was revealed that Bahrain's government quietly destroyed at least 30 Shia mosques, setting many Qurans ablaze in the process. Bahrain’s Kristallnacht, a night in which the Nazis destroyed numerous synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses, was met with no meaningful US condemnation.

In contrast, when Florida Pastor Terry Jones initially threatened to burn the Quran, President Obama condemnedJones, directly involving his administration. Obama understood that the US would be viewed by Muslims worldwide as complicit. What he fails to realize now, however, is that his reticence on Bahrain creates the same perception.


Bipartisan House centrists urge Afghanistan exit

After the success of a targeted, special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Chief Deputy Whip Peter Welch and Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) are leading a bipartisan effort in the House urging President Obama to recalibrate America’s anti-terrorism policy and end the war in Afghanistan.

In a letter to President Obama sent Monday, Welch, Chaffetz and a group of three Democrats and three Republicans are calling for a shift from the expensive nation building strategy currently underway in Afghanistan to one modeled after the successful mission that located and killed Osama bin Laden. 


Time to consider a non-interventionist foreign polivy

Last week marked an important milestone in the war on terrorism for our country. Osama bin Laden applauded the 9/11 attacks. Such deliberate killing of innocent lives deserved retaliation. It is good that bin Laden is dead and justice is served.  

The way in which he was finally captured and killed shows that targeted retribution is far superior to wars of aggression and nation-building. In 2001 I supported giving the president the authority to pursue those responsible for the vicious 9/11 attacks. However, misusing that authority to pursue nation-building and remaking the Middle East was cynical and dangerous, as the past ten years have proven.


The importance of the US-China dialogue

The following are excerpts of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks at the opening session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the Department of the Interior.

...The Strategic and Economic Dialogue is the premier forum in a bilateral relationship that is as important and complex as any in the world. Since we first gathered in Washington back in 2009, the depth and breadth of our discussions and the participation across our two governments have grown significantly.

Through these meetings and the conversations that take place within them, both the informal conversations like the ones we had last night over dinner at the Blair House and the formal meetings, we seek to build a stronger foundation of mutual trust and respect. This is an opportunity for each of us to form habits of cooperation that will help us work together more effectively to meet our shared regional and global challenges and also to weather disagreements when they arise. It is a chance to expand the areas where we cooperate and to narrow the areas where we diverge, while both of us holding firm to our values and interests.