Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

23
Oct

The US faces many pressing issues in the near future. But none of them got much air time on Monday night in the debate between President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney. Instead, the two candidates appear stuck in the Bush worldview, and reveal a global power on the decline.

By Gregor Peter Schmitz

Obama’s best line was his claim that Romney didn’t understand the nature of a modern military. “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed.”

Ed Luce, the sage Financial Times columnist, knows from his country’s own history all about the decline of global powers. A Briton who loves America, Luce has sought to provide the United States with well-meaning counsel, most recently in the form of a book with the whimsical title “Time to Start Thinking.” The tome is nothing less than a 320-page appeal to the US to finally face up to future strategic challenges inherent in a rapidly changing world order — so that America’s decline might remain but a horror scenario.

After the 90-minute-long foreign policy debate on Monday night between US President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, several questions remain unanswered. One, however, has been cleared up: Neither Obama nor Romney have read Luce’s book.

The two contenders for what is likely the world’s most powerful office left little time for thinking — either for themselves or for the television audience. And they failed to adequately address the new challenges facing the wobbly global power America — climate change, for example, which was left unmentioned in presidential debates for the first time since 1984. Or the rise of Asia. Or even the lack of domestic investment in infrastructure and education.

Most of all, however, in the debate in Boca Raton they declined to discuss how they intend to address the country’s central foreign policy conundrum: Americans no longer want their country to be a global police force, but they still want to continue believing in American exceptionalism.

Trapped in Bush’s World

Instead, viewers were witness to a phenomenon that Luce had likewise predicted: Romney and Obama exchanged carefully prepared platitudes as though they were trapped in a world order created for them by White House predecessor George W. Bush.

The two adversaries talked about Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and the broader Middle East. And they of course also engaged in the petty discussion as to who visited Israel or American troops abroad sooner. Read more…

Dr. Gregor Peter Schmitz is a correspondent in the Washington office of DER SPIEGEL. He focuses primarily on the coverage for SPIEGEL ONLINE but also writes regularly for the magazine.

As published in http://www.spiegel.de/ on October 23, 2012.

22
Oct

In Obama’s dysfunctional foreign-policy team.

By Rosa Brooks

Last chance! On Monday, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney square off on foreign policy. It will be the final debate and President Obama’s last major opportunity to convince American voters to give him four more years.

He may not have an easy time of it. In 2008, Obama’s principled positions on the Iraq War, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and interrogation policy helped motivate the Democratic base and send him to the White House with a decisive victory. But that was then. Now, Obama’s approval ratings have plummeted, both domestically and internationally. For most of his first term, they have been well below the historical average for first-term presidents.

Despite some successes large and small, Obama’s foreign policy has disappointed many who initially supported him. The Middle East initiatives heralded in his 2009 Cairo speech fizzled or never got started at all, and the Middle East today is more volatile than ever. The administration’s response to the escalating violence in Syria has consisted mostly of anxious thumb-twiddling. The Israelis and the Palestinians are both furious at us. In Afghanistan, Obama lost faith in his own strategy: he never fought to fully resource it, and now we’re searching for a way to leave without condemning the Afghans to endless civil war. In Pakistan, years of throwing money in the military’s direction have bought little cooperation and less love.

The Russians want to reset the reset, neither the Chinese nor anyone else can figure out what, if anything, the “pivot to Asia” really means, and Latin America and Africa continue to be mostly ignored, along with global issues such as climate change. Meanwhile, the administration’s expanding drone campaign suggests a counterterrorism strategy that has completely lost its bearings — we no longer seem very clear on who we need to kill or why.

Could Obama have done better?

In foreign policy as in life, stuff happens — including bad stuff no one could have predicted. Nonetheless, to a significant extent, President Obama is the author of his own lackluster foreign policy. He was a visionary candidate, but as president, he has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture — one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks. His national security staff is squabbling and demoralized, and though senior White House officials are good at making policy announcements, mechanisms to actually implement policies are sadly inadequate. Read more…

Rosa Brooks is a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on October 18, 2012.

18
Oct

By Luke Mogelson

The Afghan National Police, near the Iran-Afghanistan border.

On the southern outskirts of the city Zaranj, where the last derelict shanties meet an endless, vacant country — beige desert and beige sky, whipped together into a single coalescing haze by the accurately named Wind of 120 Days — there is a place called Ganj: a kind of way station for Afghan migrants trying to reach Iran. Every day except Friday, a little before 2 in the afternoon, hundreds of them gather. Squatting along a metal fence, Hazaras, Tajiks, Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Baluchis from all corners of the country watch the local drivers move through a fleet of dilapidated pickups — raising hoods, inspecting dipsticks. A few hope to continue on to Turkey, Greece and ultimately Western Europe. Most harbor humbler dreams: of living illegally in Iran, of becoming bricklayers, construction laborers, factory workers or farmhands. When one of the drivers announces he is ready to go, as many as 20 migrants pile into the back. The leaf springs flex; the bumper nearly kisses the ground. Arms and legs spill over the sides. Finally, apprehension gives way to expectation, and a few men laugh and wave goodbye.

Two days before I first visited Ganj, early this September, one such pickup, speeding south through the desert toward the lawless border region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, struck a freshly planted land mine that killed the two smugglers in its cab and sent airborne its human cargo like firewood or fruit. My interpreter and I happened to be walking by the provincial hospital, in downtown Zaranj, shortly after the victims were admitted. At the front gate, a young orderly viciously punched a man trying to enter the premises on his motorcycle. With his feet firmly planted on the ground, the man on the motorcycle revved his engine, spinning the back tire in place and churning up a thick cloud of dust even as the orderly continued to assail his head and face. The man on the motorcycle, it turned out, was a relative of one of the dead smugglers, and in his grief, he appeared almost to welcome the blows.

Zaranj is the capital of Nimruz — by many measures the most isolated province in Afghanistan, at the remotest southwest corner of the country — and the hospital’s resources were predictably limited. Most of the survivors had been advised to get themselves to Herat, some 300 miles north, where doctors would be better equipped to help them. For all the billions of dollars that have been invested over the past decade, parts of Afghanistan remain beyond the reach of Western influence. While neighboring Helmand Province has represented the epicenter of counterinsurgency efforts, Nimruz feels like a different country altogether. There are no coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or foreign NGO workers. Instead, the Afghans have been left to find their own way — and fight their own wars. We hailed a rickshaw and headed to a bus stop outside town. There we found a man in his early 20s slouched against the wall of a small store. His shirt and pants were darkly soaked with blood. A bandage was wrapped around his head. A kinked tube ran from his arm to an IV bag tied to a door handle with a loose piece of gauze. His name was Gulbadeen. He told us there had been 10 other men in the truck from his village in Faryab Province, each of whom was determined to try again. Gulbadeen himself sneaked into Iran three years earlier, working as a laborer, sending money home, until he was deported last winter. “I’m done,” he said. “I can’t do this another time.” Read more…

Luke Mogelson is a contributing writer to The New York Times Sunday magazine. He last wrote about Emergency Hospital in Kabul.

As published in www.nytimes.com on October 18, 2012 (a version of this article appeared in print on October 21, 2012, on page MM32 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: The White- Hot Middle of Nowhere).

16
Oct

Cristina de Kirchner has brought her country to the brink of the abyss.

By Daniel Altman

Step into a discount department store in New York or Miami these days, and you’re likely to hear Spanish in the aisles. Not just any Spanish, though — Argentine Spanish. The distinctive accent, where “y” becomes “zh” and the final “s” sometimes disappears entirely, has lately become the sound of a massive transfer of wealth. Ringing through American checkout lines, it is also the sound of another economic crisis on the way.

Argentina has become much more important to the global economy in the decade following its last crisis, which began in 2001. Back then, its exports were only worth about $31 billion, or 11 percent of its gross domestic product. Today, Argentina’s exports have almost doubled, even after accounting for inflation, and it is a central player in commodity markets ranging from lithium to soy. Yet its trading regime is notoriously fickle, and another crisis — economic, political, or more likely both — could cause severe disruption.

Argentines have been talking about the imminence of their next crisis for about two years now, and their economy is showing plenty of worrying signs. Private economists estimate that inflation is running between 20 and 30 percent, while the government has doctored economic statistics to such an extent that the International Monetary Fund may censure it. The peso trades at more than six to the dollar in the street, though the official exchange rate is 4.7. The central bank maintains the artificially high value of the currency by buying pesos with its reserves, while the government limits the purchase of dollars by ordinary Argentines.

The combination of high inflation in wages — as well as prices — and an artificially strong peso has been a boon to Argentine consumers, especially the upper-middle class. Foreign goods are cheaper than ever, as is tourism. Visitors to Argentina, on the other hand, will find prices for clothing, electronics, and other manufactures in Buenos Aires on a par with New York, London, or Tokyo. The question for many well-to-do Argentines is not whether they will go abroad to shop, but how they will sneak their purchases through customs on the way back. Read more…

Daniel Altman teaches economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business and is chief economist of Big Think.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on October 15, 2012.

15
Oct

By Joseph S. Nye

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis – those 13 days in October 1962 that were probably the closest the world has come to a major nuclear war. President John F. Kennedy had publicly warned the Soviet Union not to introduce offensive missiles into Cuba. But Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to cross Kennedy’s red line surreptitiously and confront the Americans with a fait accompli. When an American surveillance plane discovered the missiles, the crisis erupted.

Some of Kennedy’s advisers urged an air strike and invasion to destroy the missiles. Kennedy mobilized troops, but also bought time by announcing a naval blockade of Cuba. The crisis subsided when Soviet ships carrying additional missiles turned back, and Khrushchev agreed to remove the existing missiles from the island. As then US Secretary of State Dean Rusk put it: “We were eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

At first glance, this was a rational and predictable outcome. The United States had a 17-to-1 advantage in nuclear weaponry. The Soviets were simply outgunned.

And yet the US did not preemptively attack Soviet missile sites, which were relatively vulnerable, because the risk that even one or two of the Soviet missiles would be fired at an American city was enough to deter a first strike. In addition, both Kennedy and Khrushchev feared that rational strategies and careful calculation might spin out of control. Khrushchev offered a vivid metaphor in one of his letters to Kennedy: “We and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war.”

In 1987, I was part of a group of scholars that met at Harvard University with Kennedy’s surviving advisers to study the crisis. Robert McNamara, Kennedy’s secretary of defense, said he became more cautious as the crisis unfolded. At the time, he thought that the probability of nuclear war resulting from the crisis might have been one in 50 (though he rated the risk much higher after he learned in the 1990’s that the Soviets had already delivered nuclear weapons to Cuba).

Douglas Dillon, Kennedy’s treasury secretary, said he thought that the risk of nuclear war had been about zero. He did not see how the situation could possibly have escalated to nuclear war, and thus had been willing to push the Soviets harder and to take more risks than McNamara was. General Maxwell Taylor, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also believed that the risk of nuclear war was low, and he complained that the US let the Soviet Union off too easily. He felt that the Americans should have removed the Castro regime. Read more…

Joseph S. Nye, a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, is University Professor at Harvard University.

As published by Project Syndicate on October 8, 2012.

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