US (Fucked-up) Foreign Policy and I
I am not sure I ought to say this.
GoFuckYoMama, Uncle Sam!
…and I am Sid Harth@arabuhuru.org
Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.
TWE Remembers: George Kennan and the Long Telegram
by James M. Lindsay
February 22, 2012
Foreign service officers posted in embassies and consulates around the world send cables to Washington every day. Much of what they write is forgotten even before it is read at the State Department. A few cables gain notoriety when they are leaked to the public. Almost none help change the course of history. But the cable that George F. Kennan sent to his State Department superiors from Moscow on February 22, 1946 did just that.
Hopes in the United States were high during the winter of 1945-46. World War II had ended with the defeat of Japan and Nazi Germany. Many Americans expected that Washington would build on the relationship with its wartime ally, the Soviet Union. They shared the conclusion that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower reached visiting Moscow in 1945: “Nothing guides Russian policy so much as a desire for friendship with the United States.” But by late fall 1945 the alliance began to unravel as Moscow pushed to carve out a sphere of influence in the Balkans, a prelude to what would become Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Then on February 9, 1946, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin gave a fiery speech in which he spoke of the wartime alliance as a thing of the past and called for the Soviet Union to undertake a series of five-year plans aimed at a rapid military-industrial buildup.
Coming as it did just six months after World War II ended, Stalin’s speech alarmed U.S. officials. The State Department turned to Kennan, its foremost Soviet expert and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, for an explanation. The then-forty-two-year-old Kennan, a career foreign service officer, wired back a 5,000-word reply—the Long Telegram.
Kennan argued that U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union rested on an erroneous assumption: that Washington could influence Soviet behavior by offering incentives to encourage better behavior. To the contrary, powerful and irresistible internal dynamics drove Moscow’s behavior. The Soviets were:
committed fanatically to the belief that with US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure.
As a result, only the threat of force could limit or alter Soviet ambitions.
Kennan published a revised version of the Long Telegram a year later in Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym “X.” (He was still a State Department employee, and it was deemed unwise that he should write under his own name.) For all the revisions, the critical point remained the same:
the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.
Kennan’s idea that the United States should seek to contain rather than appease or roll back the Soviet Union got noticed. (The words “contain” and “containment” did not appear in the Long Telegram.) As the official history of the Council of Foreign Relations, the publisher of Foreign Affairs, later summarized it:
Perhaps no single essay of the twentieth century can match the X article for its impact upon the intellectual curiosity of a confused nation, upon the mindset of equally confused policymakers and scholars, upon national policy in at least seven presidential administrations to come.* It ran only 17 pages; its tone was scholarly, elegant but practical; only three sentences used the magic word that came to define American policy for half a century.
The doctrine of containment would guide U.S. foreign policy for the next four decades. When the Soviet Union landed on the ash heap of history in 1991, foreign policy scholars across the ideological spectrum vied to win the Kennan sweepstakes and name the foreign policy era that succeeded containment. So far no one has claimed the crown.
Kennan, however, was never enamored with how his intellectual handiwork was implemented. He believed that the Truman administration gave containment a more belligerent and militaristic twist than he had intended. He found himself increasingly marginalized within the State Department, and he left the Foreign Service in 1950. He spent most of the rest of his life at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton writing elegantly though critically about U.S. foreign policy. He died in 2005 at the age of 101. He had provided the defining term of his era. But he always thought he was out of place, describing himself as a “guest of one’s time and not a member of its household.”
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Thank God, Dean Acheson took his early warning to heart and created the strong alliance that persisted until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Your comment is awaiting moderation.How we manipulate our own words. George F Kennan after sixty-six years is exhumed for whatever valid reasons. Who pays for any and all sentiments of a civil servant, at a junior grade, stacked up somewhere in an embassy compound of a major country?Not that it matters. Kenna may have found the Rosetta Stone of the international relations. Perhaps, God spoke to him on a Blackberry mobile. He is history-story.
If American diplomacy or the lack thereof, since his famous telegram on February 22, 1946 was as important as played out in the media, how come US gives the impression that they want to Nuke Iran?
Send military chasing Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Drop Pakistan into boiling oil. Send Chinese (Communist) dictators to North Pole?
Something is wrong with American thinking?
If containment was a good policy, or was it a new philosophy in those good old days, why not fish it out from the fish tank and try it in today’s trickier situations? I dare to ask!
…and I am Sid Harth@arabuhuru.org
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About This Blog
On The Water’s Edge, Lindsay examines the push and pull of U.S. foreign policy. It focuses on three themes: the political forces shaping American foreign policy, the sustainability of American power in an era of fiscal austerity, and the ability of the United States to navigate a rapidly changing world.
About the Author
- Video on Japanese-American internment during WWII and what it means for international relations today. http://t.co/rWf1rrBQ
- This Day in 1980: US Olympic #hockey team beats USSR, 4-3, in “miracle on ice” game at Lake Placid. http://t.co/PcnEPWAE Thx Mike Eruzione
- A cable that was famous before #WikiLeaks. http://t.co/Z8wMHEpx Remembering Kennan’s Long Telegram, which redefined U.S. Soviet policy.
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Promoting democracy in places like Egypt or Iraq is about changing the status quo. So why are we so surprised when it turns out that not everyone is in favor?
BY CHRISTIAN CARYL | FEBRUARY 22, 2012
Imagine this: You’re a member of the post-revolutionary Egyptian cabinet, one of the very last holdovers from the Mubarak era. You also happen to be a civilian, so you can’t depend on your buddies in the officers’ club to protect you. And on top of everything else you’re a woman, in a society that doesn’t exactly have a rich history of high-ranking female politicians. What do you do to shore up your career?
Why, you go after the Americans, of course.
Faiza Abul-Naga, Egypt’s somewhat ironically titled Minister of International Cooperation, has vastly boosted her notoriety by placing herself at the center of a scandal involving U.S. democracy assistance. On December 29, Egyptian security forces raided the offices of 17 local and foreign non-government organizations around the country, accusing them of the illegal use of funds and various other crimes. (The photo above shows Egyptian security forces guarding the Cairo office of the U.S. National Democratic Instititue, one of the U.S. groups raided.) Several observers, including U.S. Senator John McCain, have pointed the finger at Abul-Naga, who is said to have orchestrated the crackdown on NGOs as a way of diverting attention from the poor performance of the military-led government. The minister is not making any effort dispel that impression: “Every country has pressure cards in the political field,” she apparently told an Egyptian newspaper. “Egypt is no exception.”
The U.S. reaction veered between indignation and disbelief. “We are very concerned because this is not appropriate in the current environment,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. The raids put Egypt’s ruling military junta and the U.S. “on an unprecedented collision course,” puffed Newsweek. Analysts dutifully pointed out that the raids could jeopardize the $1.3 billion in direct aid the U.S. pays to the Egyptian military each year. Now the Egyptians say they’re preparing to put the 43 civil society workers they’ve arrested (including 16 Americans) on trial for their presumed offenses.
Amid all the fuss linger several unanswered questions: Why would the generals do such a stupid thing? Are they thinking straight? Are they really in control? After all, the organizations under attack are simply trying to promote democracy and help build institutions in the wake of Egypt’s chaotic revolution. Surely even the generals ought to be able to understand that such efforts are in the interest of all Egyptians.
In fact, though, the commentators should have been asking a different question about Abul-Naga — namely, what took her so long. After all, the Americans have been deeply unpopular in Egypt for years. Washington supported Mubarak for decades. Washington is a close friend of Israel. Washington has been invading and occupying Muslim countries. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 70 percent of Egyptians were opposed to further U.S. funding to their country, which they view (without knowing much about the details) as interference in their internal affairs. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that some enterprising Egyptian politician decided to capitalize on such sentiments.
To understand Egypt’s NGO scandal, it might help to look at another Arab country where the U.S. has spent billions trying to promote democratic institutions: Iraq. Earlier this month The New York Times reported that Washington is planning to slash the civilian presence at its massive embassy in Baghdad. Though the State Department pushed back against the paper’s claim that the plans could mean a 50 percent reduction in the staff there, it still looks likely that the cuts will be substantial.
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
Christian Caryl, a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute and a contributing editor of Foreign Policy, is the editor of Democracy Lab.
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The Reality of American Power: Why Robert Kagan Is Wrong
As a life-long hypochondriac, I was laughing out loud when reading the tragic-comic inscription on the tombstone located in the cemetery in Key West, Florida: ‘I Told You I Was Sick!’
I could imagine the poor guy confronting family and friends and insisting to no avail that what he had was more than just the common cold or the seasonal flu.
‘You are not sick’ is the kind of reassuring message that Robert Kagan is sending to the nation’s foreign policy hypochondriacs aka ‘declinists’ in his new non-fiction book The World America Made, contending that America is in tip-top military and economic health and ready to take care of the rest of the world. He recalls that the same kind of hypochondriacs had complained that America was really, really in decline in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
But, as the sad case of our late Key Westerner demonstrates, even hypochondriacs do get sick. In the same way, great powers do decline, both in relative and absolute terms. Hence American global economic power started to decline relative to rising economic players like Japan and Germany in the post-1945 era, and relative to China and India more recently.
And while in absolute terms the US continues to maintain the largest economy — and remains the pre-eminent military superpower based on any standard one applies — it still has to operate by the realist axiom that in the long run, no great power can preserve its military superiority on the basis of a weakening economic superstructure.
Kagan, the son of a renowned historian who had studied the Peloponnesian War and the brother of the author of a book on the Napoleonic Wars, likes to present himself as a hard-core Realpolitik analyst of foreign policy, and tends to bash his intellectual rivals, the so-called ‘declinists’ as idealists. He says they place their faith in the dreamy notions of an evolving international community and the abolition of war through peaceful diplomacy and international law.
Not unlike your average hypochondriac who dismisses the advice of the medical doctor, these declinists refuse apparently to face reality and listen to a rational scientist of power like Kagan, and instead assume that the US interests and values would continue to prosper in the more multipolar system in the kind of post-American world that commentator Fareed Zakaria imagined in his book on the same subject.
His views matter now as he is a top foreign adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
But if anything, it is Kagan who refuses to face the reality of current American global power. He also misrepresents the views of Zakaria and other realist foreign policy analysts who believe that the most ineffective way to maintain American power and influence is by continuing to do what Kagan has been advocating since the end of the Cold War — engaging in unnecessary and wasteful wars in the Middle East and picking-up costly diplomatic fights with China and Russia while raising US defense budget to the stratosphere, igniting anti-American sentiment worldwide and eroding US credibility.
Which brings me back to the inscription in the Key West cemetery. Imagine now that the physician who was taking care of that very sick Key Westerner — let’s call him Dr Kagan — was not only dismissing the dangerous symptoms exhibited by his patient. How would we have reacted when we found out that the medical doctor was actually the one who had recommended that his patient take an health-inducing (and democracy promoting) trip to the Greater Middle East — with a long stay in Iraq — where the poor man contracted the deadly virus that led eventually to his demise?
Indeed, there is an element of the theatre of the absurd in the spectacle of Kagan, the geo-strategist who was the leading intellectual cheer-leader for the decisions to invade Iraq and launch the Freedom Agenda in the Middle East that were so central to the erosion of US global position. He is now lashing out at others for their lack of faith in American power that he had so helped to diminish so much.
Kagan also fails to recognise that the policies he and other neo-conservative intellectuals advocated — that were embraced by the Administration of George W Bush — played directly into the hands of the Chinese, who were delighted to see the Americans drown in the military quagmires in the Middle East while they were spending their time and resources in opening new markets for their trade and investments, including in Afghanistan and Iraq where security was being provided by US troops.
And much of what Kagan writes about the potential threat to the post-World War II international system created by the US makes little sense. The policies pursued by the second Bush Administration based on the unilateral and pre-emptive strikes against against real and imaginary aggressors with weapons of mass destruction, and right and obligation of the US to do ‘regime changes’ in other sovereign nation-states, were the ones that ran contrary to the set of international rules promoted by the US and its allies after 1945.
In fact, these policies violated international rules established by the Westphalian Peace of 1648 to which China and Russia continue to adhere (hence, their most recent opposition to Western military intervention in Syria).
Moreover, it seems that Kagan believes that continuing to accumulate power and using it more often is the surest way prevent American decline. Preoccupied with the high-brow discourse about high-power he refrains from engaging in such ‘boring’ subjects, like how to fix America’s fiscal problems, to revive its manufacturing base, and to reform its ailing public education system.
All Americans need to do is to believe in their power — and it will come to be.
It is quite depressing to see that despite the fact that Kagan the geo-strategist has been so wrong in the past and helped to contribute so much to the decline in American power, he continues to be taken seriously by American policymakers and the media.
Dr Kagan, our imaginary medical doctor from Key West, would have lost his license to practice medicine a long time ago.
The commentary was originally published in the Singapore Business Times on 2.21.12
Follow Leon T. Hadar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leonhadar
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Iran defiant as U.N. nuclear talks fail
By Fredrik Dahl and Parisa Hafezi
VIENNA/TEHRAN | Wed Feb 22, 2012 5:42pm EST
(Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog ended its latest mission to Iran after talks on Tehran’s suspected secret atomic weapons research failed, a setback likely to increase the risk of confrontation with the West.
The United States criticized Iran on Wednesday over the failure of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest mission, saying it again showed Tehran’s refusal to abide by its international obligations over its nuclear program.
Expressing defiance, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran’s nuclear policies would not change despite mounting international pressure against what the West says are Iran’s plans to obtain nuclear bombs.
“With God’s help, and without paying attention to propaganda, Iran’s nuclear course should continue firmly and seriously,” he said on state television. “Pressures, sanctions and assassinations will bear no fruit. No obstacles can stop Iran’s nuclear work.”
A team from the Vienna-based IAEA had hoped to inspect a site at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, where the agency believes there is a facility to test explosives. But the IAEA said Iran “did not grant permission.”
The failure of the two-day visit by the IAEA could hamper any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers – the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – as the sense grows that Tehran feels it is being backed into a corner.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney also said the United States was continuing to evaluate Iran’s intentions after Tehran sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week, raising hopes for the prospects of renewed talks with world powers.
“This particular action by Iran suggests that they have not changed their behavior when it comes to abiding by their international obligations,” Carney told reporters, expressing U.S. disappointment that the IAEA mission had ended in failure.
Iran rejects accusations that its nuclear program is a covert bid to develop a nuclear weapons capability, saying it is seeking to produce only electricity.
As sanctions mount, ordinary Iranians are suffering from the effects of soaring prices and a collapsing currency. Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed over the past two years in bomb attacks that Tehran has blamed on its arch-adversary Israel.
In response, Iran has issued a series of statements asserting its right to self-defense and threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil tanker route.
The collapse of the nuclear talks came as Iran seems increasingly isolated, with some experts seeing the Islamic republic’s mounting defiance in response to sanctions against its oil industry and financial institutions as evidence that it is in no mood to compromise with the West.
Parliamentary elections on March 2 are expected to be won by supporters of Khamenei, an implacable enemy of the West.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out using force against Iran if they conclude that diplomacy and sanctions will not stop it from developing a nuclear bomb.
In Jerusalem, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman dismissed appeals by world powers to avoid any pre-emptive attacks against Iran’s nuclear program.
Lieberman said that “with all due respect I have for the United states and Russia, it’s none of their business. The security of Israel and its residents, Israel’s future, is the responsibility of Israel’s government.”
The failure of the IAEA’s mission may increase the chances of a strike by Israel on Iran, some analysts say.
But this would be “catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.
Referring to Iran’s role in the failure of the IAEA mission, French Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said: “It is another missed opportunity. This refusal to cooperate adds to the recent statements made by Iranian officials welcoming the progress of their nuclear activities.”
In the view of some analysts, the Iranians may be trying to keep their opponents guessing as to their capabilities, a diplomatic strategy that has served them well in the past.
“But they may be overdoing the smoke and mirrors and as a result leaving themselves more vulnerable,” said professor Rosemary Hollis of London’s City University.
‘WAGING A WAR’
Iranian analyst Mohammad Marandi said providing the West with any more access than necessary to nuclear sites would be a sign of weakness.
“Under the current conditions it is not in Iran’s interest to cooperate more than is necessary because the West is waging a war against the Iranian nation,” he told Reuters.
Earlier, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran expected to hold more talks with the U.N. agency, but IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s spokeswoman said no further meetings were planned.
“During both the first and second round of discussions, the agency team requested access to the military site at Parchin. Iran did not grant permission for this visit to take place,” the IAEA said in a statement.
“It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin. We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached,” Amano said.
A Western official added: “We think that if Iran has nothing to hide, why do they behave in that way?”
Iran’s refusal to curb sensitive atomic activities which can have both civilian and military purposes and its record of years of nuclear secrecy have drawn increasingly tough U.N. and separate U.S. and European measures.
An IAEA report in November suggested Iran had pursued military nuclear technology. It helped precipitate the latest sanctions by the European Union and United States.
One key finding was information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin to conduct high-explosives tests. The U.N. agency said there were “strong indicators of possible weapon development”.
The IAEA said intensive efforts had been made to reach agreement on a document “facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues” in connection with Iran’s nuclear program.
“Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document,” it said in an unusually blunt statement on Wednesday.
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They have sealed their fate.
What a surprise.
I really thought that “but we SUSPECT you” argument would work.
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Posted By Will Inboden Wednesday, February 22, 2012 – 12:44 PM Share
Last week might turn out to be a very significant week in U.S.-China relations, but perhaps not for the reasons most people would think. For foreign policy mavens, the big news last week was the visit of Chinese vice-president and heir-apparent to the Party throne, Xi Jinping. For almost everyone else in the country, the big news was the supernova-like emergence of NBA star Jeremy Lin.
Ten or twenty years from now, when we look back on this past week, which event will be seen as more important for U.S.-China relations and the future of China itself? No one can yet say, and while the safe bet from the policy-maker’s vantage point might be the Xi Jinping visit and its anticipation of his decade-long rule, we shouldn’t make the same mistake made by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, and count out the Jeremy Lin story. Before I go any further, I admit that even indulging in these speculations risks tripping headlong over the “wait just a second, people” admonition wisely offered by Dan Drezner against investing Jeremy Lin with any Deeper Meaning. And as my former NSC colleague Victor Cha (a scholar of sports and Asia policy) points out, those who hope that Lin’s stardom might help improve the complicated U.S.-China relationship are probably indulging in wishful thinking.
First, some context. Continuing in our occasional theme of reflecting on what history can bring to policymaking, one thing history offers is a sense of perspective, a reminder that the most consequential events are often not immediately apparent at the time they occur. As my University of Texas-Austin colleague Frank Gavin has observed, three separate developments from California in the space of a few months in 1976-77 were the creation of Apple computer, the release of the movie Star Wars, and the unprecedented medals awarded to a group of Stag’s Leap Napa wines in a Paris tasting contest. Though seemingly unrelated and not fully appreciated at the time, together these events heralded a new era of American culture’s global influence, historically far more consequential than the Carter administration’s first few months in office. Or more recently, who could have predicted on Dec. 17, 2010 that the most globally important event that day would be the self-immolation of an obscure street vendor in a seemingly insignificant North African country?
Turning back to the two China-related events of last week, the Xi visit and the Lin stardom, Steve Walt makes some persuasive points about why Xi as an individual leader might not be a primary factor shaping the U.S.-China relationship. I suspect this could underplay Xi’s importance, given the hard choices China will have to make over the next decade on issues such as rebalancing its economy, addressing its many restive borders, decreasing corruption, and clarifying its strategic intentions in the western Pacific. Much of that, however, depends on the Communist Party continuing to hold its monopoly on power, and here is where Jeremy Lin could bring an added complication.
Lin has already become a cultural phenomenon in China, benefitting in part from the legions of Chinese basketball fans first cultivated by Yao Ming. Yet if Yao Ming’s roots and identity were unequivocally mainland Chinese, Lin’s identity is not so straightforward. His Taiwan roots could at the least complicate the mainland’s popular attitudes that see the island as a renegade province. Perhaps more significantly, his evangelical Christian faith appeals to the tens of millions of house-church Christians in China, who sometimes at great risk worship outside the control of government-approved religious bodies. And his faith might also inspire otherwise non-religious Chinese, further adding to Christianity’s explosive growth in China. All of this in turn poses a delicate challenge for a Communist Party that has thus far co-opted every successive new communication technology to surveil and tightly manage the information available to its citizens: How to control the message and image of Jeremy Lin that an adoring public perceives? Especially if Lin continues to play well and popular demand for information about him grows?
How this develops will depend on many factors, including whether Lin continues to play great hoops (hopefully), whether he continues to speak openly about his faith (likely), whether he ever comments about political issues such as religious freedom in China or the status of Taiwan (possible but less likely), and especially how the tension between the Chinese government’s need for control and the Chinese public’s hunger for information plays out (anything is possible). To be clear to readers (especially those named “Dan Drezner”!), this is not a case of feverish “Linsanity” arguing that Lin will cause democratization in China. (Only rabid Duke fans such as my Shadow co-curator are prone to investing basketball with such cosmic significance). Rather, this is a speculation that China’s response to Lin’s emergence could possibly play a part in fueling a movement for political change based on a host of other pre-existing factors. Or not. Only time will tell, and history will judge.
Regardless, it seems that the White House’s overemphasis on the role of the Communist Party in the U.S.-China relationship may account for the Obama administration’s one major mistake in its otherwise successful management of Xi’s visit. This was the White House’s refusal to support Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook’s visit to China. Ambassador Cook’s long-planned maiden trip was blocked by the Chinese government, while the White House, concerned about the Xi visit, apparently failed to press Cook’s case with Beijing. This was strategically shortsighted, especially since in the long run religious citizens in China may well do more to shape China’s future than an individual party leader. Furthermore, the failure to support Ambassador Cook’s visa set a bad precedent for U.S. credibility on a range of issues, and conceded undue leverage to the Chinese government. After all, Beijing needed the Xi visit more than the U.S. did, and a quiet message from Washington to Beijing stressing that denying Cook her visa “would not be helpful” to the optics of Xi’s trip would have likely done the trick.
How to remedy this? Next time President Obama, Vice President Biden, or Secretary Clinton meets with one of China’s leaders, they should make sure that Ambassador Cook is also at the table, and should tell the Chinese that she enjoys the president’s support on this important issue. Then to keep the tone agreeable, perhaps the conversation can turn to a topic everyone would find of interest, such as Jeremy Lin’s most recent game.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
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By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer / February 22, 2012
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So far in Syria’s year-old uprising, the US has focused on diplomatic measures for pressuring the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. That preference for diplomacy probably has some life left in it, most foreign policy experts say.
But the Obama administration‘s opposition to arming the rebels appears to be softening, as civilian casualties mount under continued bombardment of rebel strongholds by Assad forces and with news Wednesday that two Western journalists holed up in the Syrian city of Homs were killed by mortar fire.
No automatic triggers exist that would cause the US to shift to open support of an international effort to arm the rebels, regional experts say.
“Given the strong opposition the administration has expressed to arming the opposition and to feeding the fires of Syria’s conflict, it doesn’t seem likely they’d turn on a dime and suddenly favor that,” says Robert Danin, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “At the same time,” he adds, “I think they want to let all the parties know they have other strategies to turn to if the diplomatic measures they prefer fail to produce.”
On Tuesday both the White House and the State Department said the US still wants to avoid actions that could contribute to Syria’s “militarization,” but hinted that “additional measures” could become necessary at some point if Mr. Assad fails to yield and the repression continues. So far, between 7,000 and 8,000 people have died in the Syria uprising against the Assad government, rights groups say, noting precise figures are hard to come by because information is hard to verify.
But that point doesn’t seem to have arrived yet for the White House, says Mr. Danin. The US is “coming late” to focus on Syria for a number of reasons – intervention fatigue, a focus on domestic issues, deep concerns over the geopolitical ramifications of an imploding Syria – so now the administration’s attention “has an air of improvisation” to it.
“I certainly don’t see a road map or an escalatory ladder,” he says.
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The Role and Relevance of Multilateral Engagement in U.S. Foreign Policy
Assistant Secretary Brimmer (Feb. 16): “The United States must remain a leading voice and a leading light in the world community.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Thank you, Cedric, for that kind introduction. I’m very pleased to be in Atlanta for a brief visit, and when I have occasion to travel around the country, I make every effort to meet with the chapters of the World Affairs Council.
I do so not just because you are a community deeply engaged on foreign policy issues, but because we share an obligation to explain to the larger American public the crucial importance of robust U.S. engagement on the international stage.
Now, we can debate the scope and flavor of that engagement, but I think we can all agree that the United States must remain a leading voice and a leading light in the world community.
Today I would like to take just a few minutes to discuss how the United States is demonstrating that leadership at the UN and in other international organizations. Let me begin by observing that the American public does not generally spend a great deal of time focusing on the actions and functions of the UN. When it does, it is often during a crisis and in the context of the UN Security Council.
We’ve witnessed this several times over the past year. First, when the Security Council authorized an emergency international response to the situation in Libya – an action that ultimately saved thousands of lives and hastened the end of the Gaddafi regime.
Even more recently, and significantly less laudatory, the Security Council was unable to reach consensus on a resolution calling on the Syrian regime to halt the ongoing violence directed against the Syrian people.
I’ll return to this issue in a moment, but I draw your attention to these two examples for a particular reason. It strikes me that when the United Nations and other important international organizations take assertive action on a burning issue, that action is frequently described as positive evidence of cooperation between nations.
However, when these same bodies are unable to take such action, as in the recent Security Council failure on Syria, that result is normally described as a failure by the United Nations itself, not its membership. I find that unfortunate, because it blurs who is really responsible for that failure—in this case, the two countries who used their Security Council vetoes to block international efforts to support the Syrian people—Russia and China.
In both of these cases as well, however, the Security Council may have garnered much of the attention, but a significant role also was played by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
For Libya, even before the first Security Council resolution, the HRC had unanimously condemned the Gaddafi regime’s human rights abuses. And ongoing attention by the Human Rights Council to the human rights dimension of the crisis in Libya helped maintain global support for accountability and protection of civilians.
On Syria, the members of the Human Rights Council have held multiple emergency special sessions to condemn the ongoing attacks on civilians by the Assad regime. The HRC has launched an international commission of inquiry, to document human rights abuses and build the foundation for international accountability. And through its repeated special sessions, it has maintained international attention and support for an end to the violence in Syria, despite the repeated decisions by China and Russia to block essential action in the UN Security Council.
In any event, I would be happy to chat further about these particular dynamics and challenges, but let me return now to the Administration’s effort to maximize our engagement in these many and varied international bodies – the President’s ‘era of engagement.’
Clearly, we face a expanding number of global challenges. Climate change, terrorism, food insecurity, water, non-proliferation, energy, health. The number and complexity of issues that require international collaboration is growing, and the advantages to the United States of that engagement are manifold.
We cannot effectively address any of these shared, global challenges by ourselves or solely through traditional bilateral interactions. Can we really imagine, for example, addressing satellite bandwidth questions or the sharing of weather data country by country? Should we engage individually with 192 other nations on each issue? What about the establishment of shipping lanes, territorial waters, or efforts to tackle pandemic diseases?
No, we live in a globalized, interconnected world – a world in which communities and cities such as Atlanta are closely and beneficially linked. So, U.S. engagement with the UN has never been more critical, if we are to find shared solutions to common challenges.
Of course, I say that in the shadow of the Russian and Chinese decision to block UN Security Council action on Syria. This shameful action underscores my larger point, however – the United States must be vigorously and comprehensively engaged with the fullest range of international organizations to advance its national interests.
In this case, we remain steadfast in our support of Arab League efforts on Syria, and we will continue to work urgently with that organization and the many other like-minded partners to make clear to the Assad regime that its assault on the Syrian people must end, and a political transition must begin. As I mentioned before, the Human Rights Council and the international Commission of Inquiry it launched have important roles to play as well, and we have been staunch supporters of those efforts to end the violence.
In Libya, much has transpired, of course, and much remains to be down to ensure Libya remains on its positive trajectory. Here again, the UN must and will play an important role – a role which synthesizes and focuses the collective commitment of the UN member states.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, the UN continues to play an indispensable role contributing to political stability. UN political missions in both countries work to strengthen democracy and mediate local conflicts, allowing us to draw down our military forces on schedule.
In fact, the range of peace and security issues that the United States advances through the UN and international organizations is quite dizzying. Consider the fact that there are currently some 17 UN peacekeeping missions around the world, with roughly 120,000 blue helmets helping ensure and secure peace and stability. The crucial work of these missions has been front page news just in recent weeks and months – in Cote d’Ivoire, in Sudan, in the Congo.
The United States is the largest supporter of UN peacekeeping activities, just as we are the largest contributor to the UN budget more generally. That level of commitment is a reflection of more than just our relative economic position – it’s a indication of our global leadership and of our understanding that such missions enable the United States to positively influence areas of conflict without having to commit U.S. military resources.
That leadership has been indispensable on a host of issues. Consider, for example, our continuing efforts to isolate Iran and hamper its efforts to pursue its illicit nuclear program. Consider the tough series of sanctions measure we have helped develop and institute on rogue regimes such as North Korea. Consider the tremendous progress over the last decade in the fight against terrorism through sanctions, improved cooperation on aviation security, strengthening national capacities, et cetera.
These many and varied efforts almost never grab the headlines, but they are one of the smartest investments the United States and the international community can make to advance our shared security. That is why the State Department’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR, emphasizes preventing and resolving armed conflict, and why we are working across the UN system to explore new ways to promote those goals.
I have discussed how we work across the UN system to enhance national and international security, but our multilateral engagement also is an important means of advancing universal norms and values.
One of the President’s earliest decisions on UN issues was that the United States should seek election to the UN Human Rights Council. Now, this is an institution that has been rightly criticized in the past for being ineffectual and absurdly focused on excoriating Israel while ignoring burning human rights crises. We did seek election in 2009, and we were elected. Since that time, we have employed our voice and our moral authority on human rights issues to begin redirecting the ship, and with great success.
The Human Rights Council was among the first UN bodies to condemn and take action as violence and human rights abuses unfolded in Syria and Libya last year. We have created a host of new mechanisms and rapporteurs to address human rights issues in Iran, Cote d’Ivoire, Yemen, Belarus, and elsewhere. We have led a global effort to reframe the international debate around defamation of religions into a constructive conversation about advancing freedom of expression. And just last June, a diverse majority of states on the Human Rights Council adopted the first resolution in the history of the United Nations in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.
Our efforts on the Council have resulted in some broken china, to be sure. Some states have resisted and resented our leadership there – Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and others. I can think of few better measures of success. And so, we near the end of our first term on the Council, and we intend to seek reelection later this year. We will do so because much remains to be done, and our voice, our leadership, has proven invaluable in the successes to date.
I’d like to stop there and hear some of your thoughts. I’ll close by noting that nobody believes the UN or international organizations are perfect. Multilateral diplomacy is a messy business. But we’re committed to improving the institutions we work with, whether on nuclear nonproliferation or food security, global health or urbanization. There is far too much at stake for the United States to diminish our presence on the international stage.