Many commentators have recently noted the United States’ failure to anticipate the ongoing “Arab Spring” and, more importantly, seeming inability to shape events on the ground. The United States, critics claim, has lost much of its influence in the Middle East and been reduced to spectator status as events unfold.
While the validity of this criticism is debatable, there is no doubt that the United States will have to engage new and unfamiliar Middle Eastern actors. Secular political parties, Islamist groups, military leaders and technologically-savvy youth will all try to define their visions for the future and shape post-revolutionary states. The process is likely to be chaotic, even violent, with no guarantee that the end result will match U.S. interests.
Now is the time for the United States to assert its leadership. President Obama needs to take the initiative and harness the power of the entire free world. The United States, the European Union, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, India and all other democratic powers should quickly forge a common declaration to present to Arab revolutionaries. (more…)
“Virtually all serious observers of national security affairs now recognize the current structure of the national security system militates against unified problem-solving when the problem is a multiagency issue. The question is what to do about it.”
Counter-proliferation, counterinsurgency, food security, energy policy – all examples of complex and multifaceted issues that increasingly dominate America’s security priorities and starkly highlight the chronic limitations of the U.S. national security structure. The Project on National Security Reform and others stress the critical need for a Goldwater-Nichols Act of national security to take on the colossal and outdated bureaucracy built around the security challenges of the post WWII period. (more…)
Now that direct peace talks have officially collapsed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to take unilateral steps towards statehood, including appealing to the United Nations. His hope is to achieve independence by the end of 2011. So far, the United States has been wary of any unilateral actions, preferring a comprehensive peace deal. To help achieve a negotiated peace, however, President Obama must dramatically increase security assistance to the Palestinian Authority and exert significant pressure on the Netanyahu administration.
President Abbas is dangerously close to being labeled a failure. The Palestinian Authority has effectively lost control of the Gaza Strip since Hamas’ takeover in 2007. In the West Bank, Israel continues to build settlements on disputed lands and has nearly completed its security barrier. The Palestinian economy is weak and dependent on freedom of movement allowed by Israeli security forces. Peace negotiations, meanwhile, have little prospects for success given Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. At the age of 75 and with no clear successor, Abbas could use a unilateral declaration of independence as a means to overcome the current deadlock and establish a legacy as the father of a nation.
Yet President Abbas understands this approach is fraught with peril. Israel has made it clear that it will not recognize a Palestinian state without a negotiated peace deal. Should Abbas unilaterally declare independence, Israel has threatened to formally annex large parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements. Given its near complete control over the Palestinian economy, Israel could effectively prevent any independent state from becoming viable. Abbas knows unilateral independence will make him the father of a failed state and an alternative path for progress must be found. (more…)
Kay King, Vice President of Washington Initiatives at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently released a report entitled Congress and National Security arguing Congress’s increasing inability to effectively address major domestic and international challenges has severe ramifications for U.S. national security.
King points to contributing factors which have led to a decline in Congressional effectiveness, including amplified partisanship, abuse of rules and procedures, outdated committee structures, decreased expertise, and competition with domestic programs. She specifically addresses how the toxic partisan atmosphere has contributed significantly to Congress’s mixed performance on its national security responsibilities:
…the nation’s political landscape has been realigning since the 1970’s, ushering in deep partisanship, severe polarization, a combative 24/7 media, and diminished civility. Over time, this environment has given lawmakers greater incentive to advance personal and partisan agendas by any means, including the manipulation of congressional rules and procedures. It has politicized the national security arena that, while never immune to partisanship, more often than not used to bring out the “country first” instincts in lawmakers. It has also driven foreign policy and defense matters, short of crises, off the national agenda, marginalizing important issues like trade. Combining this increasingly toxic political climate with an institutional stalemate in the face of mounting global challenges and it is not surprising that Congress has struggled for years to play a consistent and constructive role as a partner to as well as check and balance on the executive branch on international issues.
King then goes on to recommend reform in five critical areas: prompt and inclusive action on budgets and legislation, timely and knowledgeable advice and consent on treaties and nominees, realistic and effective oversight, closing the expertise gap, and bolstering the congressional-executive branch partnership on national security policy.
The entire report can be found here.
Kenya captured headlines in December 2007 when the former beacon of stability and growth in East Africa descended into political and social chaos after elections heightened ethnic and tribal divisions. Yet despite over 1,300 deaths, 300,000 displaced, and fears of a second Rwanda, Kenya has pulled back from the brink with the creation of a fragile power-sharing government between the two major rival parties, facilitated by the collaborative efforts of multiple stakeholders locally, nationally, and internationally.
Today, Kenyans return to the polls for the first time since the post-election violence to usher in a new constitution and drastic political and judicial reforms. As Kenya takes a step in a positive direction, its trajectory from violence and complete institutional breakdown to slow but constructive change should be an opportunity for the international community and United States to evaluate the potential and limitations of preventive diplomacy as a concrete foreign policy tool.
International involvement in Kenya did not involve boots on the ground, but focused on rigorous negotiations and external economic and political pressure from international institutions and countries. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, the African Union, and others were all key in the process, threatening punitive measures and pushing both sides towards compromise. (more…)
British Petroleum has finally figured out how to get under the skin of the American Commander in Chief. President Obama, clearly irritated by BP’s lackluster cleanup efforts, has suggested that the British oil giant place in escrow funds sufficient to compensate those American citizens affected by the spill. (BP has just agreed to put 20 billion into an escrow account.) As a political decision, this is both a necessary and shrewd move on Obama’s part. But the underlying geopolitical realities that this oil spill has brought to the surface cannot be understood unless one thinks a bit more carefully – and creatively – about what the BP debacle really is, and what President Obama’s initial failure to take charge really means.
On the surface, the oil spill in the Gulf is an ecological disaster. On this understanding of what the spill is, the main problem is that gigantic plumes of oil – a precious natural resource – are quickly and relentlessly destroying the environment. As BP’s rogue oil eagerly escapes its underwater prison, our wetlands and diverse wildlife expire ahead-of-schedule and unnecessarily. The theory, then, is one of environmental catastrophe, and the dramatis personae are as vanilla as the theory: Barack Obama, beleaguered American President keen to end the crisis; Tony Hayward, the incompetent CEO of BP who makes for an easy target for the world’s politicians, pundits and public intellectuals; the American public, at once enraged and confused; and the shareholders of BP, hiding in the shadows, hoping that the cost of this crisis will not fall on their backs.
A better theory – more powerful and descriptively accurate – is available. This is no mere ecological disaster, but is, correctly understood, an attack on our political, economic, and cultural infrastructure caused by no single individual or institution but enabled by many. It is now well known that a number of indicators pointed toward the possibility of a spill of this magnitude. And yet BP and the relevant U.S. regulators did nothing. (more…)
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington yesterday for a visit let’s look at Afghanistan. If Presidents Obama and Karzai were a couple they might well be seeing a marriage counselor. There has been much baggage between them in recent months. As diplomats might say, their relationship has been strained; what one might call tough love. Indeed, so much so that President Obama has instructed his national security team to treat Afghan President Hamid Karzai with more public respect. President Obama should remember the old military saying that respect can’t be ordered, only earned.
Just last month Karzai said in a meeting with Afghan lawmakers that he would consider joining the Taliban. Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said some of Karzai’s comments were “troubling” and the White House would re-evaluate whether his trip to Washington would be constructive. Subsequently Karzai denied that he ever made the comments.
Officially, of course, things are getting better. According to the latest Congressionally mandated Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, released April 28, stability in Afghanistan is no longer on the decline, and most Afghans believe that despite increased violence, security actually has improved since this time last year. (more…)
With the oil slick from Deepwater Horizon lapping at the shores of Louisiana, all sorts of doubts about the wisdom of offshore drilling are suddenly gushing up to the surface. Environmentalists and liberals long against offshore drilling are latching on to the disaster as hard proof that the potential costs of offshore drilling outweigh any possible benefits. In his recent op-ed for the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote, “President Obama needs to seize the moment; he needs to take on the “Drill, baby, drill” crowd, telling America that courting irreversible environmental disaster for the sake of a few barrels of oil, an amount that will hardly affect our dependence on imports, is a terrible bargain.” Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Florida, agreed, saying that “Drilling too close to the coast poses too great a risk to the economy and the environment of Florida and other coastal states.” Even Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has decided not to allow additional offshore drilling in California in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Obviously, many of these reactions have more to do with politics and popularity than a sustained analysis of the costs and benefits of offshore drilling. But as my colleague John Prandato recently wrote, this is true for almost every aspect of the offshore drilling debate, which tends to be highly political rather than pragmatic in nature. (more…)
Amid the intense domestic coverage of the health care debate came a reminder of the hope that even hardened global figures have for the Obama Presidency and its ability to transform global affairs.
In the hours after Congress acted last Sunday, the White House announced that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was one of the first two global leaders to call and congratulate Obama on his domestic victory.
Now, it is reasonable to assume that the Saudi leader was not particularly concerned about health care reform itself but recognized that its passage would strengthen Obama domestically and perhaps reignite his desire to be remembered as a transformative President not simply at home but also abroad.
In 2008 Obama ran a campaign that, in part, portrayed his very election as a step towards resetting U.S. relations with the international community. Further more, by illustrating his understanding of specific hot button issues ranging from Indo-Pakistani disagreements in Kashmir to the harm caused by the Bush administrations “war on terror”, Obama suggested that he would prioritize tackling the policy matters that had corroded relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world and thus undermined U.S. national security.
His early actions as President, from the appointment of Middle East envoy Mitchell to his historic Cairo speech, collectively suggested that Obama was looking to move beyond simply the reset offered by his election and was seeking a fundamental realignment between the U.S. and the Muslim world that would transform the international arena.
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I have to admit that I am struggling to judge the Obama administrations approach to Iran over the past 12 months. At times the President and his team have got the tone and approach right (e.g. the early restrained comments as the election dispute escalated and the way Sec. Clinton engaged the Iranians at an Afghanistan conference in early 2009) but at other moments the administration has seemed to be clumsy or guilty of following a flawed game plan (e.g. the unwillingness to push for a holistic dialogue with Iran spanning issues ranging from nukes to Afghanistan to Iranian security concerns).
I don’t feel ready to prescribe a specific 2010 game plan at this moment but wanted to share one of the more interesting pieces I have reviewed on the internal dynamics in Iran. Michael Fischer outlines four possible ways in which the internal situation could evolve in the months ahead….it makes for interesting reading and this request from Michael is a very reasonable one:
It is important for Iran’s future and that of the world that more attention be focused on these alternative outcomes, so as to avoid the worst of them. Iran needs less our intervention or sanctions than an insistent questioning of who the players and their connections and alliances are.
What do you think about the scenarios outlined by Michael? Are there others that the administration needs to consider?
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.