Hillary Clinton Speaks on Human Rights

American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2
American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Elaborating on the statement President Obama made when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize last week — “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting” — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at Georgetown University in Washington DC about human rights today.

“We cannot separate our democracy, human rights and development agendas,” she argued. “They are mutually reinforcing and united in service of a common purpose: to create a world where all people have the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.” Read more “Hillary Clinton Speaks on Human Rights”

The President’s Men

Who really runs American foreign policy? It is an intriguing question because as much as President Obama is the face of his country to the rest of the world, he is not alone in the decisionmaking process.

Besides the secretaries of state and defense, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, Obama is surrounded by his national security advisor, the former Marine Corps General James Jones, and the experts of the National Security Council. Not all of these people are old friends. To the contrary: the president ran against Mrs Clinton in the primaries while both Gates and Jones served previous administration. So how have things played out? Read more “The President’s Men”

The Next Republican Candidate

President Obama has hardly completed his first year in office or speculation about which Republican will run against him in 2012 has surfaced already. With leftovers from the last election as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin probably too right wing and therefore unelectable, Mitt Romney remains the most high profile of potential candidates. Another name is being tossed around Washington however: the name of John Thune, the 48 year-old junior senator from South Dakota whose staunchly conservative views and youthfulness might well lure Republicans into electing their own version of Barack Obama.

Some media have been quick to pick up on the news. The New York Times described him as charming while Politics Daily is positively smitten with the man. He is “handsome”, “passionate” and “has gone out of his way to bolster his conservative bona fides,” we learn. For example, Thune called his faith his “anchor” and joined the effort to amend the United States Constitution with a ban on same-sex marriage. He supported the invasion of Iraq as a war of liberation — to bring religious freedom to the country would “open the door, obviously, for the Christian faith there as well,” he said. The Republican base might like to hear things like this, but how will he speak to moderates?

On his website, the senator does some more Republican smoothtalking by defending the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms while writing that “government has a duty to promote and protect the family” and pledging to “continue to fight for the life of the unborn,” meaning: abortion is a no-go unless the mother’s life is threatened.

On the other hand, he talks about the need to protect the environment, promote sustainable energy and reform health care — positions that independent voters might find appealing.

On some of the most important issues that an American president must deal with — the economy, homeland security and foreign policy — Thune volunteers no more than slogans however. “America must have a strong military,” he says. We must reduce the tax burden to promote growth. “Our tax dollars should be spent wisely” and law enforcement officials should have “the tools they need to fight the War on Terror.”

Since Thune isn’t a candidate for the presidency yet, it would perhaps be unfair to demand that he elaborates on these position. Right now though, it’s all the Republican talking points that no one can really disagree with — who doesn’t want America to have a “strong military”? and who doesn’t think that “tax dollars should be spent wisely”? — lacking a vision that anyone contesting Barack Obama in 2012 must be able to display.

Can We Win in Afghanistan?

Writing in July 2008, retired United States Army General Barry McCaffrey, a Gulf War veteran and critic of the initial American strategy in Iraq, assessed the war in Afghanistan and concluded the following.

  1. “Afghanistan is in misery.” Life expectancy is low and violence and crime are rampant. At the time, McCaffrey expected Afghan governance to worsen at least until the summer of 2010.
  2. An enormous majority of the Afghan people reject the Taliban but have little faith in the government’s ability to provide them with security and jobs. They do trust the foreign forces but are suspicious about their long-term commitment.
  3. Afghan and NATO forces are militarily superior to the insurgents but they “cannot win through a war of attrition.”
  4. The war has basically run into a stalemate while Afghanistan’s political elite is “focused more on the struggle for power than governance.”
  5. Additional forces are required to break the deadlock.
  6. There is no “sensible coordination of all political and military elements of the Afghan theater of operations” which is hampering the war effort.

General McCaffrey specifically called on NATO to provide more troops. International cooperation was, and is, of the utmost importance in winning the war, he wrote — more than a year ago.

In a similar finding last November, the general appeared all the more pessimistic. “The Taliban believe they are winning,” he wrote and the Afghan people “do not know who will prevail.” Their trust in the Afghan government has declined further while allied casualties have “gone up dramatically.”

There is some reason to be hopeful though. “The Afghan National Army is a growing success story,” and “ISAF is reinforcing just in time to rescue the deteriorating tactical situation.”

David Betz at Kings of War is skeptical however. He notes that none of McCaffrey’s original six concerns have really been addressed. That seems only partly true.

Yes, Afghanistan is still in a deplorable state. Civilian casualties and unemployment figures remain high while the military and ideological power base of the Taliban might well be gaining strength. They are waging a successful propaganda campaign that portrays the Taliban as a disciplined and truly Islamic alternative to the corrupt and incapable Kabul government and to the Western troops which they claim intend to occupy the country indefinitely.

President Obama attempted to counter this claim when he announced a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces; a decision that General McCaffrey thinks was the wrong one:

Our focus must now not be on an exit strategy — but effective execution of the political, economic, and military measures required to achieve our purpose.

The United States cannot appear to be “scuttling from Afghanistan,” agrees Betz. “We most definitely should, however, have our eyes on the exit and how to achieve the most seemly passage through it as is possible.” Why, yes, eventually. But right now, foreign troops are all that stand between Afghanistan and the Taliban ruling it once again.

The president’s date for the ‘beginning of the end’ will not see the immediate and complete evacuation of NATO forces. Rather, as Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates explained on December 2 while testifying before the Senate Armed Services and House Foreign Affairs Committees, the United States is in Afghanistan for the long run — even though it will be with fewer troops

Throughout his election campaign, President Obama stressed the importance of winning the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan, he knew, was the ground where the real War on Terror was being waged. He was right. With the recent inclusion of Pakistan in the administration’s approach to the war, the United States has the ability, and must gather the will, to defeat the forces of extremism that operate from the mountainous border region between the two South Asian states and from where they continue to threaten the stability of that entire region.

A Government by the People

Scale model of the United States Capitol
Scale model of the United States Capitol (Andy Castro)

Just a few days ago, President Barack Obama and his staff announced their Open Government Directive. In a memo, beginning with the lines, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” the White House announced its intentions to work toward a form of “collaborative democracy,” in which citizens would be able to input their ideas and contributions toward governance.

With programs like Peer-to-Patent already around, collaborative government seems closer than ever. Its tool? The Internet. Or, the “tubes,” as disgraced former senator Ted Stevens referred to them.

The directive lays out a specific timetable that can be found online and that orders all executive departments to create “open government” websites within ninety days of December 8, 2009.

It seems quite clear that this is a major change in how citizens will be able to deal with government. What is the nature of the change? As Clay Shirky tells us, “the impulse to share important information is a basic one, but its manifestations have often been clunky.” Read more “A Government by the People”

Obama Last Transatlanticist?

Will Barack Obama turn out to be the last transatlantic American president? Nicholas Kitchen wonders in The Washington Note. Although his wind of change met the approval of nearly all of Europe, a series of diplomatic gaffes and mishaps has strained relations, he claims.

The Obama Administration supposedly downgraded ties with Britain from a “special relationship” to a “special partnership” — whatever the difference there might be. As James Pritchett has argued, such a downgrading is not unnatural: Britain simply isn’t the global power it used to be, not in economic nor in military terms and the United States have little reason to pretend otherwise. Kitchen seems to consider it a failure nonetheless.

And it’s not just Britain that Obama managed to upset. No, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy expressed their “annoyance” with his administration’s “attitude toward sensitive historical anniversaries” apparently. According to Kitchen these “diplomatic contretemps” were the products of a serious divide:

[O]ver the best response to the financial crisis and in particular the issue of regulation of complex financial services instruments, with Mirek Topolanek using the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union to describe American bailouts and stimulus policies as “the road to hell”.

And what does Obama do? He goes to Asia and declares himself the “Pacific president”.

Outrageous? Not really. Kitchen is fair to note that it’s mostly the Europeans themselves who are to blame:

[T]he truth remains that if Europe wants to be a major player on the world stage it needs to think of its role more strategically and systemically if the United States is not to regard the relationship with China as its most important bilateral tie.

There is probably little that will prevent the Americans from considering the latter relationship of greater significance, however, and for good reason: the Sino-American relationship is bound to define the twenty-first century, one way or another.

At the New Atlanticist, James Joyner defends the Obama Administration’s Pacific orientation. That is not to say Washington has forgotten about Europe, he writes. “Just because other countries now get more attention doesn’t mean the transatlantic relationship isn’t the most important one.”

[I]t’s difficult to imagine an evolution of the international system that would have China — or any other rising power — coming to have more similar values and interests than exists between the United States and Western Europe.

If not for the military and political alliance, that is still strong no matter how little attention President Obama were to pay to it; the cultural and economic ties between both sides of the North Atlantic would suffice to ensure mutual dependence for decades to come. The Obama Administration isn’t neglecting Europe. It simply realizes that there are more partners out there.

Obama Accepts Nobel Prize

In Oslo, Norway today American president Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, the president outlined his vision for peace and the role which the United States must play in achieving it.

Recognizing the horrors of total war and genocide, Obama named the League of Nations and the United Nations as instruments in the preventing of another world war. At the same time he stressed the continued necessity of force. “A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies,” he said and “negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.” American weapons of war have kept the peace in many parts of the world since the end of World War II although the advent of the Nuclear Age still poses a danger to world peace. Read more “Obama Accepts Nobel Prize”

Sino-American Naval Conflict of 2015

A recent post on The Best Defense grabbed my attention. It gives a quick review of an issue of Orbis magazine’s article by Commander James Kraska, a professor at the United States Naval War College, who sets out a hypothetical conflict in which China sinks the USS George Washington.

The writer has this to say about it:

I usually like this sort of article that attempts to look back from a possible future event and explain how we got there. But I didn’t find this article … particularly persuasive.

Commander Kraska points to current counterinsurgency operations as a weakness for the United States Navy and says that they are taking their “eye off the ball” and not focusing on the Navy’s primary role: protecting the United States from blue-water threats and safeguarding American interests abroad. Read more “Sino-American Naval Conflict of 2015”

Reid Compares Health Care to Abolitionism

Speaking before the Senate on December 6 Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid compared the struggle for health-care reform to the abolition of slavery. The Republican naysayers, he stated, reminded him of the people “who dug in their heels and said slow down” when the United States “belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery.”

Was it not a Republican president who abolished slavery? Was it not the Republican Party that was willing to wage civil war on the issue? Were it not Republicans who passed the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1866? Were it not Republicans who established the Freedmen’s Bureau? And was it not a majority of Republicans who voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 over considerable opposition from Southern Democrats? It is not surprising therefore that up until President Johnson launched his “Great Society” many African Americans voted Republican.

Since the 1960s the two parties have switched roles somewhat. Once progressive, today’s Republican Party is a conservative movement, in recent years heavily influenced by the Christian Right while the Democrats, once staunchly conservative and even separatist are now politically leftist.

When it came to acknowledging “the wrongs of slavery” however it were Democrats “who dug in their heels and said slow down” up until the 1960s. Republicans by then had fought against slavery and segregation for more than a hundred years.

Reid doesn’t do himself nor his party a particular service by drawing the country’s painful history with racism into the modern day health-care debate. His misreading of that history is offensive and bound to further discredit the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care in the United States.

Fareed Zakaria Explains Why India Matters

In the wake of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s state visit to the United States this November we opined last week that India matters. President Obama recognized that when he declared the country “indispensable” in the building of “a future of security and prosperity for all nations.” Nevertheless, in India, there is doubt about Washington’s sincerity.

Obama Administration officials publicly questioned the nuclear deal that was struck with India under George W. Bush — a deal that India considered the greatest recognition of its great power status in years. There is also worry that the United States is leaning too much on China and Pakistan in its attempt to successfully end the war in Afghanistan. And India dreads the prospect of American protectionism.

Writing for Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria neatly outlined once again why India is of much greater importance to American interests in the region than China, let alone Pakistan.

India matters in Afghanistan. Its economic potential is literally a hundred times greater. As the Taliban were forced out of power, “the cuisine, movies, and money that flowed into the country were, naturally, Indian.” With $1,2 billion in aid, India is the world’s fifth contributor to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, investing much more than China is. After all, it stands much to lose should the United States and NATO abandon the country. Pakistan might succumb to total chaos with terrorism dripping over the border into India.

American policymakers do not seem to grasp in full that India’s objectives in Afghanistan, unlike Pakistan’s, are perfectly aligned with their own — “to defeat the Taliban and to support the elected Afghan government.” Islamabad, on the other hand, “has long argued that it has a right to see a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan,” lest “India reign” in the word of one Pakistani general.

Zakaria concludes with the following wise words on why the United States should pursue the alliance with India above anything else:

Obama must keep in mind that South Asia is a tar pit filled with failed and dysfunctional states, save for one long-established democracy of 1.2 billion people that is the second-fastest-growing major economy in the world, a check on China’s rising ambitions, and a natural ally of the United States. The prize is the relationship with India. The booby prize is governing Afghanistan.