Face the Assad Reality In Syria

by PSA Staff | January 31st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Frank G. Wisner is a member of PSA’s Board of Advisors as well as a former Under Secretary of State and of Defense and a former Ambassador to Zambia, Egypt, the Philippines, and India. The article was co-authored by Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official. Original article posted at the Daily Beast.

Face the Assad Reality In Syria

U.S. policy is going down the drain in Syria diplomatically and militarily. The choice: deal with Assad or fail.

The Syria conference underway in Geneva to transition from the rule of President Assad will fail, and the Obama team knows it. There is no incentive now in the Assad or rebel camps for diplomatic compromise, and the U.S. knows that. Nothing the U.S. and its allies are doing or planning on the military front will compel President Assad to step aside, and the White House understands that full well. The reality on the ground today is that American-helped moderate rebels continue to flounder, while Assad’s forces and those of the jihadi extremists prosper. Obama officials see this as well and realize that nothing they are doing or are likely to do will alter those facts.

So, if President Obama understands what he is doing will fail, why is he doing it?

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Diplomatic success always trumps a military victory

by PSA Staff | January 13th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Thomas Pickering is former US ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia; and former US Under Secretary of State and ambassador to Israel, Russia, India, the UN and Jordan. Mr. Pickering is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. William Luers, director of the Iran Project, co-authored the article. The article was originally published in the Financial Times.

Diplomatic Success Always Trumps a Military Victory

Diplomatic negotiations with Iran strike many Americans as an oxymoron. How could serious negotiations be conducted with a nation we have distrusted for decades, that has persisted in developing a nuclear programme, has threatened Israel and is involved in terrorist activities?

Yet the same Americans are quick to oppose a military solution. So the conclusion is that diplomacy must be tried. To help Americans understand that diplomacy can be used to manage some of the toughest problems, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have written an article endorsing diplomacy. It is hard to disagree.

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Are We Fighting a War on Terror in 2013?

by PSA Staff | December 13th, 2013 | |Subscribe
The author, Alessandria Dey, is an undergraduate student of Hamilton College and a current participant of Hamilton’s DC Program. She is an intern at  Partnership for a Secure America.

Are We Fighting a “War on Terror” in 2013?

In 2001, following the events of September 11th, former President Bush declared a “war on terror.” What followed was a military invasion into Afghanistan, marking the beginning of this long war. Now, after more than a decade of active U.S. military presence, many are questioning our nation’s future intentions in the Middle East. In addition to the continuation of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, U.S. involvement in counterinsurgencies and nation building has led to more skepticism of our foreign policy goals. The main question is: are we fighting a “war on terror” in 2013? The answer is yes.

A “war on terror” is defined beyond direct altercations with terrorist groups. In addition to combating terrorist groups and affiliates, the “war on terror” is a crusade against potential security threats against the U.S. In 2013, a “war on terror” includes the repression of terrorist groups, democratization of the Middle East, and continued nation-building – essential objectives for protecting the homeland in the long term.

There has been a notable decrease in the activities of major terrorist groups after the initial invasion of Afghanistan. Despite the decrease in the activities of groups like al-Qaeda, their presence and the determination of insurgents remain a threat to the government in place. U.S. involvement in counterinsurgency campaigns is vital to the stability of Afghanistan.  Insurgents are responsible for a considerable amount of damage and their relationship with al-Qaeda remains intact. They  hinder economic development and improvement in governance needed for the long term stability of Afghanistan. Four thousand Afghan civilians in the first half of 2013 were victims of insurgents’ high profile attacks. Suicide attacks remain steady with 150 per year since 2009. Insurgents are now infiltrating the Afghan police  and turning their weapons on Afghan and NATO forces. (more…)

John Lehman: More Bureaucrats, Fewer Jets and Ships More than half of our active-duty servicemen and women serve in offices on staffs.

by PSA Staff | December 12th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Mr. Lehman was secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and a member of the 9/11 Commission. He is a member of the PSA Advisory Board. This article was originally published in the Wall Street Journal.

John Lehman: More Bureaucrats, Fewer Jets and Ships

More than half of our active-duty servicemen and women serve in offices on staffs.

 

As we lament the lack of strategic direction in American foreign policy, it is useful to remember the classic aphorism that diplomatic power is the shadow cast by military power. The many failures and disappointments of American policy in recent years, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Russia and Iran are symptoms of the steady shrinkage of the shadow cast by American military power and the fading credibility and deterrence that depends on it.

Although current U.S. spending on defense adjusted for inflation has been higher than at the height of the Reagan administration, it has been producing less than half of the forces and capabilities of those years. Instead of a 600-ship Navy, we now have a 280-ship Navy, although the world’s seas have not shrunk and our global dependence has grown. Instead of Reagan’s 20-division Army, we have only 10-division equivalents. The Air Force has fewer than half the number of fighters and bombers it had 30 years ago.

Apologists for the shrinkage argue that today’s ships and aircraft are far more capable than those of the ’80s and ’90s. That is as true as “you can keep your health insurance.” (more…)

When Iran Gets the Bomb

by PSA Staff | December 2nd, 2013 | |Subscribe

The author, Christina Vachon, is a graduate student at George Washington University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in International Affairs with a concentration in International Security Studies.  She is currently an intern at the Partnership for a Secure America and has a research interest in security policy in the Middle East.

When Iran Gets the Bomb

Even though a short term deal with Iran has been reached, the US should prepare for the chance that Iran will cheat.  As talks continue toward a long term agreement, the US should assess what Iran, the Middle East, and the world will look like if Iran gets the bomb.  There is a lack of consensus on what happens if and when Iran gets the bomb.  Due to the uncertainty that exists about Iran and its program, continued diplomatic efforts are important in order to gain more information about the situation, to better relations, and to prepare for a nuclear Iran.  It is important though that all options remain on the table in order to protect US interests.

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The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

by PSA Staff | November 1st, 2013 | |Subscribe

Ryan McClure is an attorney, intern at Partnership for a Secure America, and foreign policy blogger focusing on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia.  He can be followed on Twitter @The BambooC.

The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

The United States’ relationship with Burma has greatly changed in a brief period of time.  Just three years ago, Burma was a pariah state subject to severe American sanctions.  Today, sanctions have been lessened and the Burmese president is welcomed at the White House.  The reason for these changes is Burma’s quasi-military government’s decision to carry out political reform toward a more democratic system.  However, political oppression and human rights violations continue.

The Obama Administration, while aware of these abuses, persists in rewarding the Burmese government for geo-strategic reasons.  Because of this, Congress must press the Administration to institute a more deliberate policy that rewards Burma with economic and diplomatic engagement only when concrete, sustained benchmarks have been met.   (more…)

Congress’ Iran Policy: Short Sighted and Irrational

by PSA Staff | August 13th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Jayson Browder is a decorated Air Force and Iraq Veteran. A recent graduate of Fordham University, Jayson was named a National Finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2012 and was recently awarded the William J. Fulbright Scholarship for 2013 to Turkey. Currently Jayson holds a position as a Military Legislative Assistant for Congressman Beto O’Rourke in the United States House of Representatives. This article originally appeared on PolicyMic.

Congress’ Iran Policy: Short Sighted and Irrational

Clear thought, rational thinking, and innovative ideas are desperately needed in the 113th Congress. Unfortunately, a large number of members of the House of Representatives have let short-term priorities and easy political points cloud their judgment. This has made for some poor and unfortunate votes that, for some partial short-term gains, will have long-term repercussions for the United States and our allies abroad. Examples of this include the failure to pass a budget for four years, the failure to solve the sequester, the failure to solve the debt ceiling, and most recently, the votes to place more stringent sanctions than ever on Iran.

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For a New Approach to Iran

by PSA Staff | July 22nd, 2013 | |Subscribe

By William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, and Jim Walsh. Thomas Pickering is a PSA Advisory Board Member and a former US Ambassador to the United Nations. The article was originally published in the New York Review of Books.

For a New Approach to Iran

Could this be the year for an engagement with Iran that “is honest and grounded in mutual respect,” as President Obama proposed over four years ago? That goal seems unlikely without a shift in Iranian thinking and without a change in American diplomatic and political strategy. But two developments, one in Iran and one in the region, provide reason to think that diplomatic progress might be possible.

The first is Iran’s recent presidential election, which Hassan Rouhani won thanks to an alliance between Iran’s reformist and moderate camps. Together with the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this may provide the Obama administration the chance to start a new phase of relations with Iran. The second development is the war in Syria, which has the potential to grow into a region-wide Shia–Sunni conflict. This poses a direct threat to Iran’s vital interests, giving Tehran an incentive to reduce tensions with the international community.2

Iran and the United States have many important differences, but an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability should be a critical priority. This could open the door to conversations with Iran regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. A functioning US-Iranian relationship could also help advance diplomatic efforts on Syria.

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How the world is saving the shark

by PSA Staff | July 16th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Tara D. Sonenshine is the former US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and a former PSA Board Member.  This article originally appeared on CNN.

How the world is saving the shark

As the summer ocean waves wash up onto America’s beaches, we find ourselves thinking, nervously, about Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” and the paralyzing fear that sharks inspire in us. Yet, paradoxically, we celebrate global attempts to protect the declining number of sharks. The world has figured out we need these species, along with all creatures of the Earth, to maintain a delicately balanced ecosystem.

Sharks, in particular, are “in” these days. Thanks to good public policy and the power of public education and multimedia campaigns featuring stars such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Ang Lee, killing sharks for shark fin soup is no longer cool.

Shark fins dry in the sun on the roof of a factor in Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest markets for shark fins.

The demand has been rising for decades, threatening sharks with extinction — up to 100 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. But we have started to reverse the trend, particularly in affluent areas of the U.S. and overseas where restaurants once proudly displayed shark fin delicacies on the menu.

In California, and other states, a ban on the sale and possession of shark fin soup has gone into effect this year after aggressive marketing campaigns by WildAid and other organizations.

Overseas, marketing and public diplomacy efforts featuring posters on public transportation systems and TV ads have been underway for the past few years. These efforts all show signs of success, on both the supply side and the demand side of trade in shark fins. Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department tracked 3,100 metric tons of shark fin being imported from the island to China last year, but this year’s numbers are way down.

Stopping the killing of sharks is part of a broader movement to stop the killing of wild animals and the trafficking of wildlife products around the world — products that come from poaching elephants, tigers and rhinos, in addition to killing marine life.

In November, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a global strategy to protect wildlife, raising the level of urgency to a growing national security threat.

For example, the poaching of elephants in search of ivory tusks for luxury goods had became a full-scale war between poachers, who are sometimes terrorists, and governments in parts of Africa. Illegal shipments of tusks across porous borders bring in the prizes of money and weapons.

Once a marginalized issue of U.S. foreign policy, Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry have placed wildlife trafficking at the top of the agenda, given its wide tentacles to Africa, Asia, Russia, Indonesia and consumers in almost every country.

According to National Geographic, which has been tracking elephant poaching, the financial losses place the issue on the scale of global drugs and crime, with an estimated 30,000 African elephants being killed for their tusks last year — a rate of slaughter, say wildlife experts, that could drive the animals to extinction within the century. The dwindling of African elephant populations is alarming. Much of the ivory is destined for China to make chopsticks and jewelry, and the Far East, where it can fetch upward of $1,300 a pound.

Whether it is shark fin soup or ivory piano keys, killing animals is big business. Together with international partners, conservation groups, nonprofits and businesses, the United States is leading the worldwide effort to reduce demand for high-end jewelry, herbal medicines, skins, foods and other products that rely on killing animals and marine life. Working with governments through existing protocols and conventions, the U.S. is convening stakeholders to pressure those who provide sanctuary for the poachers or allow parts and goods to make their way out of countries to market.

Public diplomacy and public education, together with sound policy, give us a model for success. Using Facebook, Twitter, public service advertisements, the media, celebrity interviews, videos and classroom teaching, we can martial the forces to convince consumers that buying products that come from slaughtered elephants or harpooned sharks is simply wrong and dangerous.

And we can track the results of wildlife trafficking and punish the offenders.

This is one of those rare international tales of where the public and private sector, along with Hollywood, can create a very different kind of movie.

The War on Tusks

by PSA Staff | July 11th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Tara D. Sonenshine is the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and a former PSA Board Member.  This article originally appeared in National Geographic.

The War on Tusks

Tusks up–in some parts of the world that means good luck; a saying full of irony considering the unfortunate plight of elephants today. Depending on your culture, elephants also convey strength, power, wisdom and patience. Whether in India, Africa or other lands, they are important and meaningful—and today they are receiving the global attention they deserve.

This month President Obama issued an executive order targeting the illegal trafficking of elephant tusks (and those of rhino horns and other products) promising a $10 million effort and a national presidential task force to increase anti-poaching efforts.  Building on what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began in 2012 as a global crackdown on illicit trade of wildlife, the President vowed to rein in the growing black market for illegal animal products, which experts estimate has reached an annual business of 7-10 billion dollars.

The threat posed by this lucrative trade is not only environmental. It is a security and counterterrorism issue for the United States and many other countries. There is mounting evidence of links between wildlife crime syndicates and terror groups, with traffickers bankrolling rebels and their militias, conducting military-style assaults on elephants and terrorists funding their violent agenda through the burgeoning market for luxury goods, religious articles, carvings and medicines.

The White House action came as new scientific research opens major possibilities for determining the age of elephant tusks—a key part of the poaching puzzle.  Reported by theProceedings of the National Academies of Science, the research on tracking the age of ivory uses atmospheric nuclear weapons testing residue from the 1950s and 1960s to connect the dots on the age of elephant tusks.  In what is akin to the DNA breakthrough on crime solving, this new research could help law enforcement and other agencies determine when the killing of an elephants occurred—a tool in citing violations of the 1989 ban on African elephant killing for tusks.  The mere fact that carbon footprints from radiation from nuclear testing can be linking to elephant footprints is an astonishing scientific leap that will also help in tracking the numbers of traffickers since estimates of poaching comes from examining elephant carcasses.

The world is waking up to the plain fact that we are losing elephants fast.  National Geographic’s  2012 cover story on “Blood Ivory” detailed a decade of poaching that hit a high in 2011, having the greatest impact in the central Africa region.  According to experts at Columbia University, we have only 400,000 elephants left in the wild.  30,000 elephants are killed each year. A public education awareness campaign must be waged worldwide to target the demand side of the elephant equation. Consumers have to understand that ivory comes from a dead elephant’s tusk and that without an end to the purchase of these products, we simply cannot win the war on trafficking.  Media campaigns like those spearheaded by National Geographic, WildAid, the World Wildlife Federation and hundreds of other conservation groups are critical.  The involvement of Hollywood figures like Jackie Chan have helped the wildlife trafficking issue to gain traction as has the work of athletes like Yao Ming.

In the end, this war will be won through changing hearts and minds—or in other words, public diplomacy.  We need education to reinforce the principle that killing animals is not cool and that the crime of poaching will lead to serious consequences.Whether it is good luck, wisdom or patience, elephants are vital to our planet and must stay front and center in the global mindset until their slaughter is stopped.

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.