Tag Archives: US

When Local Politics Drive Global Policy

 

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AFP

If you want to understand what was happening beneath the headlines on Secretary Kerry’s Israel speech, you need to think domestic politics, namely, those in Israel. The meaning behind the words contained in the speech (and their veracity) are also important, but that’s another discussion.

In September, Netanyahu announced at the General Assembly that Israel had broadened its diplomatic relations, not just with traditional allies in the West, but with emerging powers and markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But many of these “new allies” were part of the 14 nations that voted unanimously for the resolution last week. Netanyahu speaks with Vladimir Putin more frequently than any Western leader, but Moscow voted in favor. He has spent years cultivating ties with tiny Senegal, which benefits from a major Israeli agricultural aid program. When it came time to vote at the Security Council, though, they supported the resolution.

And, at a news conference last year, Bennett said that Asian countries could become Israel’s closest friends, because they “lack a heritage of anti-Semitism” found in the West. But China and Japan backed the resolution, too. In fact, Asian diplomats in Tel Aviv tend to laugh when asked whether they would play a role as Israel’s protectors at the United Nations. “We’re not a very active player in this conflict, and I think that would continue to be the case,” one high-ranking Asian diplomat told me. “We want to maintain our distance and focus on other issues.”

Israel’s newest allies, in other words, are happy to increase trade, tourism and security cooperation—but when it comes to diplomacy, they won’t stick their necks out. And if the Netanyahu government provokes a stronger reaction from the U.N., they might even retreat.

via Greg Carlstrom in Politco, “Trump Could Be Israel’s Worst Nightmare

The NYT reported that across the Middle East the speech was received with some interest, but with shrugs, too. And Robert Danin, writing on CFR’s Middle East blog said that “what was striking about Kerry’s 75-minute long address was not what was new, but rather how little new there really was for him to say.”

You can read the full transcript on Vox.

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Thinking Carefully about U.S. Power

Another reason to read the NYT: where else will you get a full half-page, above-the-fold analysis citing top scholars on the underlying reasons why Syria is a such a strategic, military and diplomatic conundrum:

It is an urgent problem that has consumed foreign policy discussions for the last few years. But much more is involved than the fate of a single country in the Middle East. Underlying the Syria issue is a set of questions that have animated every major debate over foreign policy for a century: What is America’s role in the world, what are its obligations, and what happens if it falls short of meeting them?
One strain of thought holds that America has a mission to champion democracy and human rights, granting it a unique role in the world, along with special powers and obligations. But that idea has always been controversial, with skeptics arguing it is an alluring myth — and a potentially dangerous notion.
via NYT

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Inside Negotiations for a Bipartisan Immigration Deal

A great article by Alec MacGillis in the NYT Magazine on how the Republicans and Democrats came together after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama–with a historic window to negotiate an immigration deal. Who were the players. How did the deal come together. And how it fell apart.

Three years ago, the G.O.P.-led Housewas close to reaching a compromise on immigration — one that might haveneutralized the issue for the 2016 election.This is the inside story of what went wrong.

Source: How Republicans Lost Their Best Shot at the Hispanic Vote – The New York Times

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A New Frame for American Power

 

Facing “a world in disarray”–the term used by Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. President has some work to do. On his recent trip to Laos, however, President Obama draws from his rhetorical toolbox to reframing the discourse on U.S. power and foreign policy history. His critics see it as weakness, or worse. But speaking truthfully about American past misdeeds can be a powerful strategy for building influence.

Mr. Obama’s series of speeches reviewing historical trouble spots highlight several unusual facets of his worldview. They fit within his larger effort to reach out to former adversaries such as Cuba and Myanmar. They assert his belief in introspection and the need to overcome the past. And they highlight his perspective that American power has not always been a force for good.

According to Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth College, reported in the NYT:

none of Mr. Obama’s comments constitute apology. … Rather, these speeches touch on a longstanding domestic political divide over the nature of American power.

“It gets back to this issue of national identity,” she said. Some Americans, including Mr. Obama, emphasize democratic ideals of humility and self-critique. Others believe American power is rooted in unity, celebration of positive deeds and shows of strength.

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for,” Mr. Obama said in March in Argentina, referring to a 1976 military coup that had received tacit American approval. “The United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies, as well, and its own past.”

Source: Obama, Acknowledging U.S. Misdeeds Abroad, Quietly Reframes American Power – The New York Times

This strategy strengthens soft power–even as the Obama Doctrine has relied on hard power significantly.

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Gray Diplomacy: Side Deals

Much was made of the U.S. payment to Iran as a “ransom for hostages.” As President Obama said, “The only bit of news is that we paid cash…because we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran.”

 The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers.

Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.

via Politico

Still not sure? Read through Jack Beauchamp’s piece in Vox where he breaks it down step-by-step.

 

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Military Trumps Diplomacy

The thesis, “militarization of [fill-in-the-blank]” has become rampant, isn’t new. In State vs. Defense, Stephen Glain explored how the traditional functions of diplomacy have become subsumed by the military-industrial complex, with mixed outcomes for U.S. foreign policy. And writing in 2012, Franz-Stefan Gady muses that militarized diplomacy “distorts assessments of U.S. influence and obscures national interest.”

Now, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor, protege of Michèle Flournoy, and Sheryl Sandberg contrarian delves deeper into the Pentagon in How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon, to explore how this is happening.

Equally illuminating is her examination of the resentment that the military has generated by expanding its role, assuming responsibility for all manner of unlikely projects. In its efforts to stamp out future generations of terrorists, the Pentagon has sponsored peace concerts in Africa, distributed soccer balls with anti-extremist slogans in Iraq, trained judges in Afghanistan — anything to shore up stability in volatile nations. It drives State Department personnel and aid workers — the people who would ordinarily be charged with such efforts — nuts.

“You’ve got these kids,” one Agency for International Development worker told her, “these 30-year-old captains who’ve spent their lives learning to drive tanks and shoot people, and they think they know how to end poverty in Afghanistan, in six months.”

Source: Review: ‘How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything’ – The New York Times

 

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The Roll Call Motion that Could (But Didn’t)

Today’s Roll Call Vote, an Explainer:

The Trump floor wrangler, Rick Gates, said “Our goal is to destroy them.” It didn’t work. 

Prior to the convention the Dump Trump delegate plan was to get to a roll call vote through a rule changes. According to Kyle Cheney in Politico, this is what happened:

They almost got the vote. The Never Trump delegates joined forces with a small but aggrieved band of GOP delegates — led Virginia delegate Ken Cuccinelli and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — furious with party leaders and the Trump campaign for their role last week in blocking a slew of changes to party rules that conservative activists favored. Together, they shocked Trump campaign and GOP leaders on Monday afternoon by producing signatures from a majority of delegates from 11 states and territories, far more than the seven jurisdictions necessary to force an up-or-down vote on the convention’s rules package. That would’ve left approval up fate to 2,472 delegates on the convention floor — and embarrassed Trump regardless of the results.

Next on the floor, Day 1 #RNCinCLE according to Chris Cillizza in The Fix (WaPo):

“Roll call vote” was the chant of the anti-Trump forces, a desire to have each state, one by one, announce their support or opposition not only for the rules package but, more broadly, for Trump.

Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack was — unfortunately for him — tasked with overseeing this chaos. The first time he tried to declare that the “ayes” (pro-Trump) votes had it, he was shouted down and left the stage. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a leading voice of the anti-Trump movement, called that decision to flee “surreal” and admitted that he had no idea what would come next.

What came next was a return by Womack to the stage and a repetition of the voice vote. After declaring that the “ayes” had it (again), Womack noted that only six of the nine states demanding a roll call vote had stood firm. Seven states were needed.
And, scene. The Iowa and Colorado delegations walked off the floor. Boos cascaded down. But it was over. 

Details are emerging on which states caved–the recipients of some back room arm-twisting:  Maine, Iowa, Minnesota and the District of Columbia. 

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Career Diplomat Undone Doing Her Job?

What happens when the India/Pakistan tensions spill onto the professional life of Robin Raphel, a career diplomat with more than 30 years of work at State, including as Assistant Secretary of State? She faced an FBI counterintelligence investigation where materials alleging her role in revealing secrets were uncovered. The case was closed in March 2016 with no charges filed, a “misunderstanding“, but the damage was done.

Support  from Hussein Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. offers insight into the fallout:

“I hope a good American diplomat will now no longer suffer because someone who disliked her leaked the story of inquiries about her prematurely, making her look like a criminal before even filing of charges. …Good thing is, the D.O.J. did the right thing.”

Her extensive career (explored in WaPo), coupled with her candid style and willingness to defend the Pakistani point-of-view left her colleagues perplexed and concerned.  Known as  a smart, articulate and highly competent diplomat, more recently Raphel served as a senior advisor to Richard Holbrook on Af-Pak.

Dan Feldman, Raphel’s last boss at SRAP, says the case shows that other agencies need to better understand diplomacy: “I wish there had been better and more coordinated knowledge about the nature and importance of diplomatic channels, and what it entails for diplomats to be effective in pursuing critical national security priorities.”The case had a “chilling effect” on other diplomats, who feared they might be next, a half-dozen State Department officials told me. But Raphel’s colleagues stood behind her, even when the investigation was still active. Beth Jones, another former assistant secretary of state, organized a legal defense fund last summer. The fund raised nearly $90,000 from 96 colleagues and friends, many of whom, recalls Jones, voiced the fear: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Source: When diplomats get punished for doing their jobs – The Washington Post

 

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What the ‘dissent channel’ cable at State Means

Dozens of diplomats and mid-level officials argue for a U.S. intervention in Syria. You can read the document here. According to Joseph Cassidy, vividly explains how this “means the system is working” in the “pillow fight” that often is foreign policymaking.

The use of the dissent channel, managed by the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff has been occasionally documented, as seen in the book, The Blood Telegram by Gary Bass. In the book reveals the “profoundly disturbing account” of killing–caused by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger–with an estimate of 200,000-500,000 dead in the country we now call Bangladesh. (Not everyone sees the book as an indictment, however; Peter R. Kann sees the benefits of a foreign policy based on “unwavering loyalty to allies and an aversion to interference in another nation’s internal affairs” in his own review (“dissent”?).

The current dissent at the State Department is different for several reasons. According to Chas Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as reported by Vijay Prasad, this could be a political move to support Secretary Clinton:

What is most astounding about the cable is that it mistakes objective shifts in geopolitical relations for subjective errors. This is an elementary error for observers of international relations. The cable blames Obama for not striking Syria earlier and asks that he do so now. But Obama did not strike Syria in 2013 because he recognized, correctly, that the Russians, Chinese and most of the major countries of the Global South (including India) deeply opposed regime change. It was to finally stop any consideration of regime change that the Russians directly intervened in 2015. The deployment of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles would put any U.S. bombing raid into direct confrontation with the Russians. This is a very dangerous situation. Older habits of U.S. uni-polarity, developed from Gulf War 1 in 1990, no longer apply to an increasingly multi-polar world. It is not Obama’s timidity that led to the failure of aerial bombardment in Syria, as the diplomats contend, but it has been the rising confidence of certain world powers to confront U.S. preponderance. That this is not evident to the diplomats suggests they have a poor understanding of the world.

Source: Brain-Dead Diplomats: Why Did 51 American State Dept. Officials ‘Dissent’ Against Obama and Call for Bombing Syria? | Alternet

The person behind the famous “blood telegram, the “dissenting diplomat”, Archer K. Blood,  turned out provide factually accurate and morally upstanding counsel. As the chief political officer in what was then known as East Pakistan he paid a professional price–and this begs the question whether his approach was the most effective. (Ellen Barry explores this question in her fascinating piece in the NYT, Memo from Bangladesh.)

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Ambassador John E. Reinhardt, first public diplomacy leader at USIA

State Department spokesman John Kirby does daily battle with the press; it must get tiresome. So he would know a true legend in the field. This past 18 February 2016, John E. Reinhardt passed away and left a foundation for public diplomacy that should be more widely recognized:

Speaking on the impact of public diplomacy, Reinhardt once said this: “[P]ublic diplomacy as a foreign affairs endeavor has never been recognized as much as now in its great importance.” Time has not changed that perspective. In fact, perhaps, it has only become truer. In today’s increasingly interconnected world, where regional issues quickly transform into global challenges, the value of public diplomacy has never been greater.

via DipNote, Remembering John Reinhardt: A Pioneer in Public Diplomacy

In the NYT, Reinhardt’s obit explained his approach to organizational leadership at USIA:

“He was the real thing, a genuine, practicing cultural diplomat,” Richard T. Arndt, another envoy, wrote in 2005 in his book “The First Resort of Kings.” …

Renamed the United States International Communication Agency and encompassing Voice of America broadcasts and cultural exchanges, the agency under Dr. Reinhardt expanded its agenda to include “speakers sent abroad, seminars held abroad, visitors brought to this country,” he said then.“

Our activities and programs as a whole,” Dr. Reinhardt added, “should be designed to learn as well as to inform, and to inform as well as to learn.”

Source: John E. Reinhardt, Ambassador and Head of U.S. Information Agency, Dies at 95 – The New York Times

Read the full transcript of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training oral history project interview with Ambassador Reinhardt from March 2002 to get the measure of a remarkable contribution to U.S. diplomacy.

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