Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

16
Oct

There’s little awareness of how the budget crisis has eroded US credibility. It’s time for a reverse Christopher Columbus

By Timothy Garton Ash

Capitol Hill October 3

‘If the US goes on like this, then one day – one year, one decade – the copper bottom of investors’ confidence will fall out.’ Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

On Monday, government offices were closed in Washington DC, to mark Columbus Day. Except that most of them had been closed anyway, because of the US government shutdown. As everyone knows, Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator who, in the service of the Spanish crown, supposedly “discovered” America and reported its potential to a wondering world. I have spent the summer in the United States watching, with growing alarm, a country engaged in a degree of self-harming which, if observed in a teenager, would lead any friend to cry “call the doctor at once”. As I set course back to Europe, my conclusion is this: America should do a reverse Columbus. The world no longer needs to discover America; but America urgently needs to discover the world’s view of America.

Ordinary Americans, and especially the small minority active in Democrat and Republican primaries, must learn more of what people across the globe are thinking and saying about the US. For if you follow that, you realise that the erosion of American power is happening faster than most of us predicted – while the politicians in Washington behave like rutting stags with locked antlers.

The 24/7 US news coverage follows every last lunge and twist of the stagfight. It is the political equivalent of ESPN, the non-stop sports network. Just occasionally, the rest of the world breaks through: for instance, when the World Bank and the IMF hold their annual meetings – right there in Washington – and the heads of both institutions, Jim Yong Kim and Christine Lagarde, warn of dire consequences. That gets a few column inches. Or when the government shutdown and debt-ceiling brinkmanship leads Barack Obama to cancel a major trip to Asia, including the Apec summit in Bali, leaving the floor wide open for president Xi Jinping to assert China’s regional leadership (“the Asia-Pacific cannot prosper without China”).

A more direct taste of foreign news is available just a few clicks away. On my cable TV control, if I scroll down to channel number 73, or 355, or whatever it is, I can get Al-Jazeera, China’s CCTV and Russia’s RT. Their reporters often speak perfect American-accented journalese, and sometimes actually are career American journalists, lured away from job-shedding US news organisations to give credibility to these channels. CCTV’s Washington bureau chief, for instance, is Jim Spellman, formerly of CNN. These channels’ take on the Washington dégringolade is much harder edged than the ESPN version. The website of the Russian state-backed RT quotes an editorial published by the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, proposing that, in the light of this crisis, “several cornerstones should be laid to underpin a de-Americanised world”. Read more…

As published in www.theguardian.com on October 15, 2013.

15
Oct

Six reasons why the United States can’t force Iran’s nuclear hand.

By Colin H. Kahl, Alireza Nader

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Iranian president Hasan Rouhani’s recent charm offensive has raised expectations for a diplomatic breakthrough heading into this week’s nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia (the so-called P5+1) in Geneva. Sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy, and the Islamic Republic may finally be motivated to take steps to rein in its nuclear program, including accepting limits on uranium enrichment, in exchange for lessening the pressure.

Hawks in Israel and Washington, however, have been quick to describe Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” warning that the Iranian regime may agree to “cosmetic changes” to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but ultimately will do little to constrain its quest for the bomb. In particular, they have cautioned the Obama administration against acquiescing to an agreement that allows Iran to continue any domestic uranium enrichment, even at low levels suitable only for civilian nuclear power and under stringent international supervision. In his Oct. 1 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that only a complete dismantling of Iran’s enrichment program could prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. This position has been echoed by conservative think tanks in Washington and by numerous voices on Capitol Hill. Their collective mantra: “a bad deal is worse than no deal.”

Attempting to keep Iran as far away from nuclear weapons as possible by insisting on “zero enrichment” seems sensible. But in reality, the quest for the optimal deal would doom diplomacy with Iran, making the far worse outcomes of unconstrained Iranian nuclearization or a military showdown over Tehran’s nuclear program much more likely.

Uranium enrichment is one pathway to producing bomb-grade explosive material for nuclear weapons, and all else being equal, it is easier to verify the total absence of such activities than different gradations of them. Of course, it would clearly be preferable if Iran ended its uranium enrichment activities altogether. Moreover, most countries with civilian nuclear power plants forgo domestic enrichment, so it seems reasonable to demand the same of Tehran. (Although it is also the case that Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands have domestic enrichment capabilities while remaining compliant with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

But while a permanent end to Iranian enrichment would be ideal, it is also highly unrealistic. The Iranian regime has invested enormous amounts of political capital and billions of dollars over decades to master the knowledge and centrifuge technology associated with uranium enrichment — and nothing will put that genie back in the bottle. Indeed, one is hard pressed to find a single bona fide Iran expert on the planet that believes Tehran would accept a diplomatic deal with the P5+1 that zeroed out enrichment for all time. Read more…

Colin H. Kahl is an associate professor in Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Alireza Nader is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on October 14, 2013.

7
Oct

By Ana Palacio

US Iran

At first glance, the entire greater Middle East appears to be sliding into chaos. Civil war continues to rage in Syria, while its neighbors – particularly Jordan and ever-fragile Lebanon – strain under the weight of more than two million refugees. Libya has largely descended into tribal anarchy, and a weak Afghan regime is bracing itself for NATO’s withdrawal in 2014. Egypt’s military-backed government has extended the state of emergency, and Iraq is witnessing a surge in sectarian violence, with more than 5,000 civilians killed and almost 14,000 wounded so far this year.

And yet there is an exception to this pattern where one would perhaps least expect it. For decades, Iran has cast a menacing shadow of confrontation over the Middle East; now the Islamic Republic appears eager to end the showdown with the West over its nuclear program.

This shift – and Iran’s surprising role as an outlier of hope in a region of disorder – invites reflection on America’s global leadership and what the United States can achieve when it uses multilateralism (and transatlanticism in particular) to its full potential. At a time when the US often projects an image of indecision and weakness – reflected in the unfortunate slogan “leading from behind” – Iran exemplifies the potential of an international response with the US leading from the front.

The US has maintained a broad sanctions regime against Iran since the mid-1990’s, and has enforced it vigorously – imposing $1.9 billion in penalties on the bank HSBC last year, for example, and blacklisting entities that help Iran evade financial restrictions. But it was only with growing participation by a wide range of countries that the sanctions really began to bite.

This was clearly reflected in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s overwhelming election victory in June. Rouhani campaigned on a pledge to pursue “constructive engagement” with the international community. His early momentum and the apparent support – or at least tolerance – of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reflect Iranians’ weariness with international isolation and their bitterness over the economic havoc that ever-tightening sanctions have wrought. Read more…

Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on October 2, 2013.

3
Oct

By Vali Nasr

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The international agreement to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons has put diplomacy back at center stage of American foreign policy. But enforcing America’s “red line” in Syria is only a prelude to dealing with the thicker, redder line around Iran’s nuclear program. Last week’s charm offensive by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his seeming show of flexibility augurs well for a diplomatic resolution.

But America would be naïve to assume that Iran is negotiating from a position of weakness. To the contrary, Iran has come out of the Arab Spring better positioned than any of its regional rivals, and the turmoil in Syria, its ally, has paradoxically strengthened it further. Witness Mr. Rouhani’s statements that distinguished Iran from its Arab neighbors and asserted that it was uniquely positioned to broker a resolution.

Over the past five years America has thought that only an Iran weakened by economic sanctions would agree to a nuclear deal. Iran’s economy is indeed in dire straits, which helps explain the decision by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to put forward Mr. Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, as his interlocutor with the West.

It’s also true that Iran has been isolated as the sectarian tenor of the civil war in Syria incensed the country’s largely Sunni population against Shiite Iran and its clients: the governments in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran’s diplomatic flexibility is serious, but should not be mistaken for willingness to surrender.

Iran does not see itself as vanquished. Its political system is still the most steadfast and resilient in the region. It is reveling in a newfound stability on the back of a surprisingly smooth presidential election. There were no street protests in Tehran this year, like those that paralyzed Tehran in 2009, Cairo in 2011 and Istanbul earlier this year. Indeed, Mr. Rouhani’s government, by freeing political prisoners and potentially relaxing controls on the press and social media, is showing its confidence. Read more….

Vali R. Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is a contributing opinion writer.

As published in www.nytimes.com on October 2, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on October 3, 2013, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: America Mustn’t Be Naïve About Iran).

1
Oct

The Shutdown Won’t Break the U.S. Foreign Policy Machine (Right Away)

By Ty McCormick, Yochi Dreazen

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Four hundred thousand Defense Department employees, sent home. Internal watchdogs, defanged. Congressional investigations, stymied. A billion dollars a day in government contracts, stopped up.

If there’s a government shutdown on Tuesday, the United States will continue to be able to conduct its key foreign policy, national security, and intelligence missions — at least for a little while. But beyond that, well, it’s not going to be pretty.

The effects of political dysfunction in Washington are already reverberating across the globe. Markets in Europe and Asia took a hit on Monday and both the NASDAQ and Dow Jones Industrial Average fell sharply this morning when trading got underway in New York. But rattling global markets is only the first of many potential effects of the shutdown.

While government employees engaged in essential national security and intelligence-gathering activities would report to work as usual — at least in the short term — many could face considerable personal hardship because of delayed paychecks. Active-duty servicemembers might be compensated; civilians, not so much.

A government shutdown would also affect U.S. foreign policy more subtly by delaying critical foreign-policy related hearings in Congress, paring back nuclear and other critical energy programs to the bare minimum, and interfering with the State Department’s ability to police itself.

“Spies will still spy. The machinery will go on,” said a retired senior CIA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The problem is if something extra falls into the system. If guys are worried about their paychecks, they’re not concentrating on their job.”

The Department of Defense will likewise “continue to support all key military operations such as the war in Afghanistan and various other missions around the world,” Pentagon spokesman Cdr. Bill Urban told Foreign Policy. But a shutdown would “place significant hardships on a workforce already strained by recent administrative furloughs.

For the hundreds of thousands of non-essential civilian personnel employed in the U.S. foreign policy machine, it will most likely mean being furloughed. This includes roughly 400,000 employees at the Defense Department alone. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 30, 2013.

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