Month: September 2012

This week’s peace picks

There are good choices this week including the kickoff presidential debate.

1. How Should the Next American President Engage the World?, Monday October 1, 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Venue:  Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036

Speaker:  David Rothkopf, Jessica Tuchman Matthews, Thomas Friedman, John Ikenberry, Robert Kagan

Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf will moderate a debate with Thomas Friedman, John Ikenberry, Robert Kagan, and Jessica T. Mathews. This debate, the second in a three-part series sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment, will focus on one of the key issues in this year’s election—How should the next American president engage the world?

Register for this event here.


2. Building Inclusive Societies:  Transatlantic Perspectives on Multiculturalism and Integration, Tuesday October 2, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Venue:  Johns Hopkins SAIS, The Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20036, Kenney Auditorium

Speakers:  Francois Rivasseau, Rokhaya Diallo, Kubra Gumusay, Nasar Meer, Michael Privot, Emmanuel Kattan, Sonya Aziz, Eduardo Lopez Busquets, Justin Gest

Emerging European and American experts from the spheres of academia, policy making and the media will discuss their experiences and perspectives on this critical issue, including what Europe and the U.S. can learn from each other’s models of multiculturalism and integration. They will consider the challenges that both sides face in reducing anti-immigrant sentiment and improving levels of civic engagement among youth, particularly within emerging demographic groups.

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3. Women After the Arab Awakening, Tuesday October 2, 8:45 AM – 1:00 PM, Wilson Center

Venue:  Woodrow Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004, Fifth Floor

Speakers:  Dalia Ziada, Omezzine Khélifa, Rihab Elhaj, Fahmia Al Fotih, Hala Al Dosari, Honey Al Sayed, Gabool Almutawakel, Hanin Ghaddar, Yassmine ElSayed Hani, Haleh Esfandiari, Rangita de Silva de Alwis

9:00 – 11:00am  PANEL 1: Today’s View from the Ground; Dalia Ziada – Egypt, Executive Director, Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies; Omezzine Khélifa – Tunisia, Politician and Advisor, Ministry of Tourism; Rihab Elhaj – Libya, Co-founder and Executive Director, New Libya Foundation; Fahmia Al Fotih – Yemen, Communication analyst and youth focal point analyst, United Nations Population Fund; Hala Al Dosari – Saudi Arabia, Ph.D. candidate in health services research; Moderator: Haleh Esfandiari, Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson Center

11:15 – 1:00pm PANEL 2: Tomorrow’s Prospects for Women in the Region; Honey Al Sayed – Syria, Director, Syria Program, Nonviolence International; Gabool Almutawakel – Yemen, Co-Founder, Youth Leadership Development Foundation; Hanin Ghaddar – Lebanon, Managing Editor, NOW News; Yassmine ElSayed Hani – Egypt, Independent Journalist, Foreign Desk, Al Akhbar daily newspaper; Moderator: Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director, Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, Woodrow Wilson Center


4. The Missing Link:  How Can the Pakistani Diaspora Improve U.S.-Pakistan Ties?, Tuesday October 2, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Wilson Center

Venue:  Woodrow Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004, Sixth Floor

Speaker: Irfan Malik, Aakif Ahmad

According to research produced by the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, Pakistani-Americans are the second-fastest-growing Asian-American ethnic group. They are represented in a variety of professional fields, from medicine and accounting to construction and transport, and are known for their affluence and philanthropy. How can they help improve U.S.-Pakistan relations? What can they offer, and how can their resources and expertise be better tapped? This briefing marks the release of a series of recommendations, formulated by a working group of diaspora members convened by the Wilson Center.


5. Iraq Energy Outlook, Wednesday October 3, 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM, CSIS

Venue:  CSIS, 1800 K Street NW, Washington DC, 20006, B1 Conference Room

Speakers:  Fatih Birol

The CSIS Energy and National Security Program is pleased to host Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist and Director of Global Energy Economics at the IEA, to present highlights from the IEA’s recent World Energy Outlook Special Report, the Iraq Energy Outlook.

Iraq is already the world’s third-largest oil exporter. It has the resources and intention to increase its oil production vastly. Contracts are already in place.Will Iraq’s ambitions be realised? And what would the implications be for Iraq’s economy and for world oil markets? The obstacles are formidable: political, logistical, legal, regulatory, financial, lack of security and sufficient skilled labour. One example: in 2011, grid electricity could meet only 55% of demand.

The International Energy Agency has studied these issues with the support and close co-operation of the government of Iraq and many other leading officials, commentators, industry representatives and international experts.  The report examines the role of the energy sector in the Iraqi economy today and in the future, assesses oil and gas revenues and investment needs, provides a detailed analysis of oil, gas and electricity supply through to 2035, highlighting the challenges of infrastructure development and water availability, and spells out the associated opportunities and risks, both for world oil markets and for Iraq’s economy and energy sector.

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6. Iran:  Economic Troubles and International Sanctions, Wednesday October 3, 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM, Wilson Center

Venue:  Woodrow Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004, Fifth Floor

Speakers:  Bijan Khajehpour, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Suzanne Maloney

By talking about such complexities (existence of a large grey economy, regional interdependencies, deep-rooted merchant tradition, existence of semi-state economic institution etc.), the speakers will address the issue why sanctions do not have the intended result in Iran. Lunch will be served.

Register for this event here.


7. Post-Referendum South Sudan:  Political Violence, New Sudan and Democratic Nation-Building, Wednesday October 3, 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Venue:  Johns Hopkins SAIS, The Bernstein-Offit Building, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20036, Room 736

Speaker: Christopher Zambakari

Christopher Zambakari, doctoral student in the Law and Policy Program at Northeastern University, will discuss this topic.

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8. Breeding the Phoenix:  An Analysis of the Military’s Role in Peacebuilding, Wednesday October 3, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, George Mason University

Venue:  George Mason University, Arlington Campus, Truland Building, 3301 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22201, Room 555

Speaker:  George F. Oliver, Ho Won Jeong, Solon Simmons, Dennis Sandole

There are numerous professional groups and individuals working for world peace. The reality is, however, that wars between nations or within nations still cause untold human deaths and casualties. World peace, a condition where war no longer affects human societies, is a long way off. This research focuses on how to end wars and restore a sustainable, positive peace to those who have experienced the horrors of war.

More specifically, this study focuses on the military’s role in peacebuilding. In the last twenty years, post-war peacebuilding has emerged as a powerful method that helps nations recover from war. Soldiers, whether they are part of an international intervention attempting to end the war or a member of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, have an important role to play. Today, soldiers do more than win their nation’s wars; they also help other nations and their citizens recover from war. In the last few decades, civilians from organizations like the United Nations, other intergovernmental organizations, other governments and nongovernmental organizations have responded to help nations recover from war or a violent conflict. There is no argument that civilians are better at peacebuilding than the military, yet the military is moving into this realm more and more.

So what are the roles of the military and civilians? This research project answers these questions. The critical factor in determining what the military does and what civilians do is based on security. If security is good, civilians can perform all the aspects of peacebuilding. Conversely, if security is lacking, then the military must step in and take on the various parts of peacebuilding. Security, however, is not like a light switch, on or off, good or bad. It is more like a rheostat with varying degrees of security. This research defines five levels of security and then seeks to find the fine lines where civilians can replace the military in peacebuilding functions.

Current peacebuilding ideas have evolved from practice, but behind that practice are some relevant conflict and conflict resolution theories. These theories are explored and ideas for future peacebuilders are identified. Analysis of real world peacebuilding has led to the creation of various functions that help peacebuilders restore a society after a war. These functional areas are: security, humanitarian assistance, governance, rule of law, infrastructure restoration, economic development and reconciliation. Who performs each of these functional areas is directly related to the security conditions.

This research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore how security impacts the role of the military in peacebuilding. Qualitatively, two case studies are explored, post-World War II Germany and Kosovo. Quantitatively, this research explored the issue through a questionnaire that was taken by 579 soldiers, civilians and experts in peacebuilding. In the end, the hypothesis was proven that the military’s role in peacebuilding is inversely linked to the level of security. If security is sufficient, civilians do the work; and if security is deficient, then the military’s role is larger.


9. Aiding the Arab Transitions:  US Economic Engagement with Egypt, Wednesday October 3, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM, Stimson Center

Venue:  Stimson Center, 1111 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, Twelfth Floor

Speakers:  Caroline Atkinson, Amb. William Taylor, James Harmon, Mona Yacoubian

With the Middle East still reeling from a spate of anti-American violence, US relations with Egypt, perhaps the most important Arab country in transition, hang in the balance.  Just prior to the outbreak of unrest in Cairo, the largest American trade delegation ever to the Middle East completed its historic visit to Egypt.  The trade group’s trip came on the heels of a senior US delegation to Cairo to negotiate a $1 billion debt relief deal.  In addition, the US government has assembled a package of financing and loan guarantees for American investors and recently established a $60 million US-Egypt Enterprise Fund.   With persistent unemployment, low economic growth and anemic foreign investment, the Egyptian economy is struggling as Egypt attempts to meet the challenges of its historic transition.  Meanwhile, the recent unrest has spurred calls inside the United States to withdraw its economic support from countries such as Egypt.

A distinguished panel will discuss the role of US economic engagement with Egypt, how this engagement fits into a broader US strategy on the Arab transitions, and the role US economic engagement can play in ensuring a more positive future for Egypt.

Register for this event here.


10. Afghanistan and the Politics of Regional Economic Integration in Central and South Asia, Wednesday October 3, 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Venue:  Johns Hopkins SAIS, The Rome Building, 1619 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036, Rome Building Auditorium

Speakers:  Jawed Ludin

Jawed Ludin, deputy foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, will discuss this topic.  A reception will precede the event at 5:00 PM.

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11. Syria After Assad:  Managing the Challenges of Transition, Thursday October 4, 9:30 AM – 11:30 AM, USIP

Venue:  USIP, 2301 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037

Speakers:  Steven Heydemann, Jim Marshall, Amr al-Azm, Afra Jalabi, Murhaf Jouejati, Rafif Jouejati, Rami Nakhla

The Syrian revolution has taken a terrible toll.  Tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed and hundreds of thousands wounded.  Millions have been forced from their homes.  Urban centers have been destroyed, villages bombed, and communities subjected to horrific brutality at the hands of regime forces and Assad’s loyalist militias. The fabric of Syrian society is fraying under the pressure of escalating sectarian tensions.  The militarization of the revolution and the proliferation of armed opposition units pose long term challenges for rule of law and security. Damage to infrastructure and to the Syrian economy will require tens of billions of dollars to repair.

How much longer the Assad regime will survive is uncertain. When it falls, a new government will face daunting challenges. How will the Syrian opposition respond? Will a new government be able to address the urgent needs of Syrians for humanitarian relief, economic and social reconstruction, and provide basic rule of law and security? Even today, in liberated areas of Syria where a post-Assad transition is already underway, the opposition must demonstrate its capacity to address these challenges.

Over the past year, a group of opposition activists collaborated to develop recommendations and strategies for managing the challenges of a post-Assad transition.  Join us for the first presentation in the United States of the document they produced: “The Day After: Supporting a Democratic Transition in Syria.”

Register for this event here.


12. U.S.-Egyptian Relations: Where is the Bilateral Relationship Headed?, Thursday October 4, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM, Center for National Policy

Venue:  Center for National Policy, One Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001, Suite 333

Speakers:  Perry Cammack, Stephen McInerney, Shibley Telhami, Gregory Aftandilian

The slow and initial tepid response of the new Egyptian leadership to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo has led many observers to question the efficacy of the U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship and caused some members of Congress to advocate for a cut in U.S. assistance. On the other hand, both Egyptian and U.S. officials have indicated that they want the bilateral relationship to be maintained, as each side has equities it wants to protect. Please join CNP Senior Fellow for the Middle East, Gregory Aftandilian, and a panel of experts to analyze this situation and give their assessments on where the bilateral relationship is headed. A light lunch will be served.

Register for this event here.


13. Systematic Approaches to Conflict Mapping, Friday October 5, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, George Mason University

Venue:  George Mason University, Arlington Campus, Truland Building, 3301 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22201, Rome 555

Speakers:  Sara Cobb, Alison Castel

Conflict-affected societies are complex adaptive environments that often present peacebuilders and policy makers with difficult or “wicked problems.” One movement in the field is to take more holistic or integrated approaches to working with societal conflict.

Systems mapping of conflicts is one tool that is being used to enable peacebuilders to grapple effectively with the complexity these environments present. Dr. Robert Ricigliano will introduce participants to the technique of systems mapping of conflicts as a tool for assessment and planning for peacebuilding operations.


14. Paul Collier – “Making Natural Resources Work for Development,” Friday October 5, 12:15 PM – 2:00 PM, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Venue:  Johns Hopkins SAIS, The Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036, Kenney Auditorium

Speakers:  Paul Collier

Professor Collier has been the Director of the Research Development Department of the World Bank for 5 years from 1998 to 2003. His research covers fragile states, democratization, and the management of natural-resources in low-income societies.  Professor Collier is the author of The Bottom Billion, which in 2008 won the Lionel Gelber, Arthur Ross and Corine Prizes and in May 2009 was the joint winner of the Estoril Global Issues Distinguished Book Prize.  His second book, Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places was published in March 2009; and his latest book, The Plundered Planet: How to Reconcile Prosperity with Nature, in May 2010.  He is currently advisor to the Strategy and Policy Department of the International Monetary Fund, and advisor to the Africa Region of the World Bank. In 2008, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) ‘for services to scholarship and development’. In 2011 he was elected to the Council of the Royal Economic Society.

Register for this event here.

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An interesting development

This caught my eye yesterday:

Mass demonstrations broke out in more than 370 different locations across the country demanding rebel fighters to unite their ranks, have a centralised command and unified strategy to knock down the Assad regime, demonstrators also demanded the overthrow of the Assad regime.

This blurb is from the daily round-up of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre, a London-based Syrian opposition outfit.

There is nothing new about nonviolent demonstrations in Syria.  Most days see well over 100 of them.  But the armed struggle has completely overshadowed them, at least in the international press. If it bleeds, it ledes.  Boom or bust seems to be the way the foreigners see it:  if the opposition fails to take violent action, it doesn’t register on foreign eardrums.

What is interesting about this report is not only the number of different locations–I can’t remember a day with near 370 demos–but their purpose:  to urge unity on the rebel fighters (in addition to the compulsoary call for the downfall of Bashar al Asad).  This is an interesting use of the capacity for civic mobilization targeted not only on the regime but also on the opposition.

It is not unique.  In Serbia after the 1999 Kosovo war the civic resistance demonstrated repeatedly in favor of unifying the fractious (but entirely civilian) opposition, which eventually led to its victory at the polls.  But it is the first time I’ve seen it explicitly done in Syria (apologies to the civic activisits in advance if they’ve done it a dozen times previously).

This seems to me a good wicket.  The Free Syrian Army was quick to respond.  It has announced creation of the “Joint Leadership of the Military Revolutionary Councils,” which is said to include more than 80% of the rebel fighting groups.  That could enable better country-wide coordination, which is key to stretching the capacity of the Syrian regime’s security forces to respond.  Asad is fighting a counter-insurgency campaign that requires he clear, hold and build.  Taxing his forces so that they are unable to hold and build even if they succeed in clearing is critical to opposition success.

What is still missing, even if greater military coordination is achieved, is a civilian political leadership.  The basic message of the opposition is clear and unified enough:  Asad has to step aside, then we’ll negotiate a democratic transition with the remnants of the regime.  But it is not yet clear who will lead the effort and make crucial decisions.  What does stepping aside mean?  Does Bashar have to leave the country?  Who is acceptable as a negotiating partner?  Who can remain in their government jobs, who has to go?  What will be the milestones in the transition?

There are lots of people claiming to have answers to these questions.  What is needed now is the emergence of a genuine civilian leadership with enough legitimacy to decide these issues on behalf of both the civilian and the military opposition and ensure implementation of the decisions, including the prerequisite ceasefire.  I trust UN/Arab League envoy Brahimi and his small mission are looking for them, even as Asad is trying to kill them.  Let’s hope Brahimi succeeds and Asad fails.


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More talk, less eloquence, a bit of chicanery

The UN General Assembly, the ultimate talk shop, is providing a lot of opportunity this week to take the world’s pulse.  Yesterday it was Egyptian President Morsy and Iranian President Ahmadinejad.  Today it was Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu  Someone at the UN has good scheduling sense.

Ahmedinejad ended his peroration with this Messianic vision for the return of the Mahdi and Jesus Christ:

-The arrival of the Ultimate Savior will mark a new beginning, a rebirth and a resurrection. It will be the beginning of peace, lasting security and genuine life.

-His arrival will be the end of oppression, immorality, poverty, discrimination and the beginning of justice, love and empathy.

-He will come and he will cut through ignorance, superstition, prejudice by opening the gates of science and knowledge. He will establish a world brimful of prudence and he will prepare the ground for the collective, active and constructive participation of all in the global management.

-He will come to grant kindness, hope, freedom and dignity to all humanity as a girl.

-He will come so mankind will taste the pleasure of being human and being in the company of other humans.

-He will come so that hands will be joined, hearts will be filled with love and thoughts will be purified to be at service of security, welfare and happiness for all.

-He will come to return all children of Adam irrespective of their skin colors to their innate origin after a long history of separation and division linking them to eternal happiness.

The only thing good I can think to say about this is that we won’t have to listen to it next year.  Ahmedinejad will no longer be president of Iran.  Hard to tell where he will be–the Supreme Leader seems to be arresting his friends at warp speed.  I for one don’t think the Mahdi will come in time to rescue Ahmedinejad and his friends, but who knows?
Morsy was a good deal more down to earth.  He pleaded the Palestinian case well:
Our brothers and sisters in Palestine must also taste the fruits of freedom and dignity. It is shameful that the free world accepts, regardless of the justifications provided, that a member of the international community continues to deny the rights of a nation that has been longing for decades for independence. It is also disgraceful that settlement activities continue on the territories of these people, along with the delay in implementing the decisions of international legitimacy.
He was also unequivocal on Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty with Israel:
I say it loudly to those wondering about our position vis-a-vis the international agreements and conventions that we have previously adhered to: we are committed to what we have signed on. We also support the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and are determined to pursue all efforts side by side with them until they regain their rights.
His approach on freedom of expression was sincere but awkward:

The obscenities recently released as part of an organized campaign against Islamic sanctities is unacceptable and requires a firm stand. We have a responsibility in this international gathering to study how we can protect the world from instability and hatred. Egypt respects freedom of expression.

One that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed towards one specific religion or culture.

A freedom of expression that tackles extremism and violence. Not the freedom of expression that deepens ignorance and disregards others. But we also stand firmly against the use of violence in expressing objection to these obscenities.

President Abbas was clear about what he regards as the core issue blocking the Middle East peace process:

Settlement activities embody the core of the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people and all of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people that this policy entails. This policy, which constitutes a breach of international humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions, is the primary cause for the failure of the peace process, the collapse of dozens of opportunities, and the burial of the great hopes that arose from the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel to achieve a just peace that would begin a new era for our region.

He backed this up with one of the more eloquent statements of the day:

The time has come for our men, women and children to live normal lives, for them to be able to sleep without waiting for the worst that the next day will bring; for mothers to be assured that their children will return home without fear of suffering killing, arrest or humiliation; for students to be able to go to their schools and universities without checkpoints obstructing them. The time has come for sick people to be able to reach hospitals normally, and for our farmers to be able to take care of their good land without fear of the occupation seizing the land and its water, which the wall prevents access to, or fear of the settlers, for whom settlements are being built on our land and who are uprooting and burning the olive trees that have existed for hundreds of years. The time has come for the thousands of prisoners to be released from the prisons to return to their families and their children to become a part of building their homeland, for the freedom of which they have sacrificed.

Netanyahu, usually more eloquent than Abbas, was less on this occasion:

To understand what the world would be like with a nuclear-armed Iran, just imagine the world with a nuclear-armed Al-Qaeda.

It makes no difference whether these lethal weapons are in the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist regime or the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. They’re both fired by the same hatred; they’re both driven by the same lust for violence.

This is a mighty stretch.  Quoting Bernard Lewis in support does nothing to increase its credibility.  Netanyahu was wise, however, to acknowledge the effect of sanctions and to thank the U.S. and other countries for implementing them.
Then he went after his much-coveted red line:  stopping Iran from acquiring enough 90% enriched uranium to build an atomic weapon.  The problem is what he neglected to mention:  that Iran is not enriching past 20%, and about half of that supply is being converted to fuel plates that cannot be readily enriched.  Walter Pincus reported on this in the Washington Post more than two weeks ago.  Paul Pillar mentioned it on the PBS Newshour tonight.  Netanyahu knows it, but it does not fit his worldview:  if Iran is just like Al Qaeda, why would it stop enrichment at 20% and convert half of that material to a form that makes further enrichment difficult?
I’m afraid what we’ve got from the last two days is a lot more talk from the UN General Assembly, but less eloquence and a bit of chicanery.


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An eloquent day

The day has overflowed with high-minded eloquence:  Obama at the General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and Romney at the CGI  All solid, well-thought-through presentations.  Obama focused on universal values and aspirations at the UNGA, then on human trafficking at the CGI. Romney focused on improving the way in which we provide assistance internationally.

I can’t really fault much of what either said.  I agree with Obama that the violence we’ve seen in the past two weeks is inexcusable, that the video precipitating the demonstrations that killed American diplomats as well as dozens of Muslims is reprehensible, that our values nevertheless prevent it from being suppressed and also require an end to human trafficking.  I also agree with his support for the Arab awakening and in particular for an end to Bashar al Assad’s reign of terror in Syria.  I agree with Romney that we need to reshape foreign assistance so that it creates conditions for private initiative and growth, which too often it does not.

The real significance is, as usual, in what they did not say.  Obama offered no new ideas or action on Syria.  He did not mention North Korea and touched only once on Pakistan.  I imagine Pyongyang got off easy because there are growing signs of economic reform there, and less bellicosity.  It is hard to say anything nice about the People’s Republic, so better not to say anything.  That’s more or less the case with reprobate Pakistan as well:  the billions poured into its coffers seem to have bought neither economic development nor friendship.  I’d like to see Romney’s approach to foreign aid applied in Pakistan.  It is unlikely to be less fruitful than what we’ve done in the past, under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

There was no easing of the President’s rhetoric or substantive position on the Iranian nuclear program.  He rules out containment and makes it clear the United States will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Romney may doubt his credibility, but I don’t.  I think the United States is sliding inexorably towards being locked into military action against Iran if diplomacy fails, which it well might.  Both political parties have staked out strong positions that will push any president in the direction of war if Iran moves definitively to build a nuclear weapon.  That is a very good reason to make the diplomatic push as strong as possible, since war with Iran is not going to be a simple matter.

As for Romney, he may have a grand new vision of American foreign assistance, but little or no financing for it if Paul Ryan’s budget plans come to fruition.  Unlike his grand critique of Obama, Romney’s aid ideas are well-crafted.  Too bad none of it would be likely to happen if he were to become president.  If Obama is smart–and there is every indication he is that–he’ll poach a bit from the Romney ideas in his second term.  It won’t be plagiarism–these are ideas floating around already and in part adopted over the past four years.  But Obama could and should be a lot bolder in demanding from aid recipients the kinds of serious reform that Romney alludes to.

So there is little new ground broken in today’s eloquence, but a good deal to suggest that a bipartisan foreign policy is not so far out of reach, even in our highly polarized times.  That would be refreshing.


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Obama’s second term international priorities

I admit to being cheered last weekend looking at the TPM Electoral Scoreboard.  It has President Obama over the 270 electoral votes needed to win, counting only the states that strongly favor, favor or lean in his direction.  All the toss-up states save North Carolina are showing thin margins in favor of the President. Key Senate races in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Virginia are likewise showing small margins for the Democratic contenders.  It is still a long time (and three nationally televised debates) to election day, but the drift for the moment is clear.

The President is also getting over 50 per cent approval for his handling of foreign policy.  Far be it from me to want to rain on his parade, but I think he should do more and better on international issues in the future.

The President hasn’t had much to say about what he would do on foreign policy in a second term, apart from completing the U.S. turnover of security responsibility to the Afghans (as well as withdrawing more troops) and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, preferably by diplomatic means but if necessary using force.  He hasn’t said much on the Middle East peace process (such as it isn’t), maintained silence on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s re-concentration of power, showed reluctance to do anything about Syria, hesitated to challenge China, and lacks new ideas on Pakistan and Russia.

I don’t say all this is wrong.  Hesitation with China definitely beats Romney’s bellicosity, which will create the animosity we need to avoid.  China has already revalued its currency significantly, something the President might want to take more credit for.  It is not at all clear to me what he can do about Pakistan or Russia at this point.  Maybe let them stew in its own juices for a while, until they soften up.  The choices in Syria are difficult ones.  Doing anything more will have real costs.

America needs, as the President never fails to say, to put its own house in order.  Nation-building at home he calls it.  But I would still like to know what his foreign policy priorities will be in 2013-17.  The fact that Mitt Romney has failed to force Obama to specify more clearly his future foreign policy priorities is just one of the many shortcomings in a Republican campaign that will be remembered for its many unforced errors and lapses in good judgment.

But there are a few things even a convinced Obamista like me would like to see the President do or say.  With no need to worry about re-election after November 6, I hope he’ll get tough with both Israelis and Palestinians.  Admittedly he tried during the first term, insisting on a complete settlement freeze.  But this was an ill-conceived formulation that led to intransigence on both sides rather than progress.  The situation in Syria has deteriorated so badly that it may be worth another run in the Security Council at a no-fly zone.  Once the Americans are down to whatever minimum numbers are required in Afghanistan, I hope Obama will find ways to toughen his stance with Pakistan.  Iraq, too, needs a bit tougher love.

But none of these things comes close to the big one:  avoiding a nuclear Iran and the proliferation of nuclear weapons it will precipitate. This is the overwhelming first priority, as it threatens a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East and a sharp increase in the risks of war, even nuclear war, there.  Israel lacks the means to do serious and permanent damage to Iran’s nuclear program with conventional weapons, but it has all it needs to obliterate Iran with nuclear weapons.

If we fail to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the prospects are grim.  What do you think Israel is likely to do if it perceives that Iran is getting ready to launch a nuclear weapon targeted on Tel Aviv?  Will it wait and see whether the Iranians are, as many people think, “rational actors”?  Or will it try to ensure that none of Iran’s missiles will ever get to launch?  Launch on warning, which is what the Israelis will most likely do, is inherently unstable.

Lots of my colleagues are having second looks at containment, because the prospects for conventional military action against the Iranian nuclear program look so limited.  Admittedly, containment is the fallback position.

But containment with two convincing rational actors who have the better part of an hour to make decisions, the best conceivable communications with each other and no serious threat to regime survival other than a single adversary is one thing.  Containment with two actors who each believe the other is irrational (both could even be right), one of whom has less than full confidence in regime survivability even without a war, maybe 10 minutes to make decisions, and no reliable communications is something else.  Yes, India and Pakistan have survived almost 15 years without using nuclear weapons on each other, and the increasing trade between the two creates disincentives to war.  But a nuclear exchange between the two is still far more likely than war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  And we are a long way from trade between Iran and Israel as a barrier to conflict.

Andrew Sullivan, in a fit of hopefulness, comments:

To date, Obama’s response has been like Reagan’s: provide unprecedented military defense systems for Israel, deploy our best technology against Iran, inflict crippling sanctions, and yet stay prepared, as Reagan did, to deal with the first signs of sanity from Tehran. Could Obama find an Iranian Gorbachev? Unlikely. But no one expected the Soviet Union to collapse as Reagan went into his second campaign either, and it had not experienced a mass revolt in his first term, as Iran did in Obama’s. And yet by isolation, patience, allied unity, and then compromise, the unthinkable happened. I cannot say I am optimistic—but who saw the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1984?

Hope however is not a policy.  What should Obama do to try to resolve the Iran nuclear issue in a second term?

The Administration has been understandably reluctant to put a serious package of incentives for Iran to forgo a nuclear weapon on the table before the U.S. election.   Negotiating a deal with Iran is not going to help on November 6.  But I hope after November 6 the Administration will make a direct and convincing offer to Tehran:  temporary suspension of enrichment, a full accounting of past activities, tight and unfettered safeguards, no enrichment ever above 20%, no stockpiles of enriched uranium in a form that can be further enriched, and a permanent commitment not to seek nuclear weapons in exchange for full sanctions relief.  That would be a policy, not a hope.


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This week’s peace picks

It’s a busy week, with lots of variety:

1. Pulling Pakistan out of Economic Crisis, Monday September 24, 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Woodrow Wilson Center

Venue:  Woodrow Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004, Sixth Floor

Speakers:  Shahid Javed Burki, Parvez Hasan, Eric Manes, Aisha Pasha

This event marks the release of a new study on Pakistan’s economy. It is produced by Beaconhouse National University’s Institute of Public Policy, based in Lahore, Pakistan.


2. Russian-Iranian Relations:  Implications for U.S. Policy, Monday September 24, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM, Woodrow Wilson Center

Venue:  Woodrow Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004, Sixth Floor

Speaker:  Mark N. Katz

Moscow does not want to see Tehran acquire nuclear weapons. Despite this, Russia has been reluctant to cooperate much with the U.S. in preventing this. In his talk, Mark N. Katz, Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University, and former Title VIII-Supported Research and Short-Term Scholar, Kennan Institute, will discuss why this is.


3. The Myanmar Conference @ CSIS, Tuesday September 15, 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM, CSIS

Venue:  CSIS, 1800 K Street NW, Washington DC, 20006, B1 conference facility

Speakers:  Jim Webb, Kurt Campbell, Christopher Johnson, David Steinberg, Salai Ngun Cung Lian, Tin Maung Maung Than, Ernie Bower, Serge Pun, David Dapice, Shigehiro Tanaska, Elizabeth Hernandez, Mathew Goodman, Stephen Groff, Christopher Herink, Thomas Dillon, Gregory Beck, Murray Hiebert, Michael Green

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will host a select and high-level group of experts and senior policy makers for The Myanmar Conference @ CSIS, to be held September 25, 2012, at the CSIS B1 conference facility. We have recruited a world-class group of experts to kick off the on-the-record dialogue around four key themes:

i. Political and Security Developments in Myanmar
ii. Trade, Investment, and Infrastructure
iii. Humanitarian Situation and Foreign Assistance
iv. Conclusions: Recommendations for U.S. Policy toward Myanmar

The conference is being organized around the time of the visits of Myanmar President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the United States in late September. There is great interest to explore the implications for U.S. policy in the wake of the political and economic reforms in Myanmar and the recent easing of U.S. sanctions ahead of the U.S. presidential and congressional elections in November.

Register for this event here.


4. Ambassador Cameron Munter on Pakistan, Tuesday September 25, 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Venue:  Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036

Speaker: Cameron Munter

In one of his first public event since returning from Islamabad, Ambassador Cameron Munter will deliver an address on the challenges and opportunities ahead in Pakistan. Frederic Grare will moderate.

Register for this event here.


5. Campaign 2012: Arab Awakening, Tuesday September 25, 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, Brookings Institution

Venue:  Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20036, Falk Auditorium

Speakers:  Benjamin Wittes, Stephanie Gaskell, Raj M. Desai, Shadi Hamid, Tamara Cofman Wittes

Following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, the United States is weighing its position and policies in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. More than a year after the initial Arab uprisings, the United States is questioning the state of its relations with the nascent Arab democracies and the emerging Islamist regimes. As the second anniversary of the Arab revolutions approaches, political and economic instability persists alongside growing anti-American sentiment, forcing the United States to adapt its policies to the evolving landscape in the Middle East. With the U.S. election just over six weeks away, many American voters are questioning the presidential candidates’ foreign policy strategies toward the region and wondering how the volatility in the Middle East and North Africa will affect the United States in the months and years ahead.

On September 25, the Campaign 2012 project at Brookings will hold a discussion on the Arab Awakening, the tenth in a series of forums that will identify and address the 12 most critical issues facing the next president. POLITICO Pro defense reporter Stephanie Gaskell will moderate a panel discussion where Brookings experts Tamara Cofman Wittes, Shadi Hamid and Raj Desai will present recommendations to the next president.

Register for this event here.


6. Georgia on the Eve of Parliamentary Elections, Tuesday September 25, 12:15 PM – 2:00 PM, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Venue:  Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036, Carnegie Conference Center

Speakers:  Thomas de Waal, Mamuka Tsereteli, Cory Welt

On October 1, Georgia votes in a parliamentary election which is set to be its most important and closely-watched contest since the Rose Revolution of 2003. The election is also a shadow leadership election, and its outcome will determine who becomes the leader of the country when a new constitution takes effect next year, as the second term of current president Mikheil Saakashvili ends.

The governing party, the United National Movement, is facing a strong challenge from the recently formed opposition Georgian Dream coalition, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili. The political temperature is high as both sides are predicting victory and exchanging claims and counter-claims about the conduct of the election.

Register for this event here.


7. 2012 African Economic Outlook Report, Wednesday September 26, 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM, Atlantic Council

Venue:  Atlantic Council, 1101 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005, 11th Floor

Speakers:  Todd Moss, Mthuli Ncube, Mwangi Kimenyi, John Simon, J. Peter Pham

The Atlantic Council’s Michael S. Ansari Africa Center and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution are pleased to invite you to a panel discussion on the findings of the 2012 African Economic Outlook (AEO) report.  The AEO is a collaborative effort of the African Development Bank, the Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations Development Program, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.  The annual report surveys and analyzes the economic performance of fifty-three African countries, including, for the first time, Eritrea and newly independent South Sudan.

This year’s report focuses on a critical area of the continent’s socio-economic development: youth unemployment and education. Youth unemployment has been a persistent problem for a majority of African countries and a formidable obstacle to economic growth and stability. Youth dissatisfaction played a major role in the escalation of political unrest in North Africa in the past year, which resulted in a significant decrease in economic growth in the region.  Given Africa’s rapidly growing population, the demographic pressure on labor markets in African countries will continue to increase. If African countries commit to education and skills training, however, Africa’s youth bulge could become a significant competitive advantage in a rapidly aging world.

Mthuli Ncube, chief economist and vice president of the African Development Bank, will provide brief remarks on the reports’ findings and broader implications for Africa’s future, followed by a panel discussion. Panelists will discuss the many unpredictable factors threatening the continent’s economic growth offer brief remarks and policy recommendations for African nations before opening the floor to a question and answer session.

RSVP for this event to


8. Will the Monarchs Reform?  Challenges to Democracy in the Gulf, Wednesday September 26, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, Project on Middle East Democracy at SEIU

Venue:  SEIU, 1800 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, First Floor Conference Room

Speakers:  Maryam al-Khawaja, Les Campbell, Kristin Diwan, Stephen McInerney

While 2011 and 2012 have witnessed unprecedented changes across the Middle East and North Africa, the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates – have not been shaken to the same degree, with the notable exception of Bahrain.  Nonetheless, the dramatic uprisings across the region have had a clear impact on both the populations and governments of the Gulf, and it is worth examining political developments and the state of human rights in these countries.

How have the uprisings and political changes in other Arab countries been perceived by both the governments and citizens of the GCC? What steps have been taken by these governments to prevent similar changes from happening in their own countries, and how have these steps been received both domestically and internationally? What, if any, steps toward democratic reform have been taken, and what future actions might we expect from Gulf governments with regard to reform? How have the GCC governments changed their approach toward their citizens, civil society organizations, media outlets, and labor unions? How have the dramatic political changes in the region affected relations between the U.S. and the governments and people of the Gulf? And how can the U.S. and other international actors engage with the Gulf in a manner that helps its citizens realize their democratic aspirations?

Register for this event here.


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