Tag: Burma

The Dreamers and the Rohingya

Yes, of course there are important differences between what President Trump has decided to do–remove the “deferred action” status accorded by President Obama to 800,000 people, most of whom have never lived anyplace but the US–and Myanmar’s efforts to expel Rohingya who have lived there for generations. Trump isn’t burning the Dreamers’ houses to the ground or forcibly expelling them from the US (at least not yet). But they will become subject to deportation–even though they may have lived their entire conscious lives in the US–and the basic motive is similar: to rid the country of people who don’t fit an ethnic definition of citizenship.

The Rohingya are mostly Muslims (some are Hindu) in a majority-Buddhist country, one that rejects their claim to citizenship despite generations of living in Myanmar. The Dreamers are mostly Latinos (78% Mexican) brought as children to the US illegally by their parents. Apart from the President (as candidate) challenging a judge’s bona fides because his parents were Mexican, there isn’t much Trump and Attorney General Sessions can do about the millions of Latino citizens already in the US, so they are targeting whom they can. Anyone who thinks this is not ethnically motivated hasn’t spent any time listening to Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, both of whom have openly advocated discriminatory immigration policies.

President Trump ducked announcing the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and left it to Jeff Sessions, who refused to take questions. No new DACA applications will be accepted and the program will end March 5, 2018. There is of course the possibility Congress will pass corrective legislation, but the main reason President Obama instituted DACA by executive order was its failure to do so. With the legislative agenda bursting, it is not clear that immigration policy can get to the top of the priority list.

Deportation of Dreamers will be relatively easy. In exchange for deferred action, they registered with the US government, which therefore knows where they live and how to get in touch with them. For the Dreamers, many of whom don’t even speak Spanish (or another language native to their parents’ place of origin), deportation would be a wrenching experience: deprived of the country they grew up in, placed in a cultural and linguistic context with which they are unfamiliar, and separated permanently from their lifetime and career ambitions. Cruel is not too strong a word.

Of course all this will be challenged in court. There the Dreamers are a lot better off than the Rohingya, who haven’t got that option. But the odds of winning in court in the absence of a legislative fix are not good. Courts have a way of not wanting to validate illegal acts, even indirectly. We can hope they will see deportation as going to far, but that doesn’t seem likely. I hope I’m wrong about that.

President Trump has assured the Dreamers repeatedly that they have nothing to fear. But of course he has promised his core supporters that he would get rid of both DACA and large numbers of Latinos. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind which commitment he is keeping.

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Myanmar’s still long road ahead

On Wednesday, the Carnegie Endowment hosted a panel discussion on Myanmar’s November 8 elections: ‘What happened and what happens now?’ featuring William Sweeney, president and CEO of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES); U Aung Din, senior adviser at the Open Myanmar Institute; and Christina Fink, professor of practice in International Affairs at George Washington University, The panel was moderated by Carnegie Senior Associate Vikram Nehru.

Sweeney painted an optimistic picture of the elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a staggering 80% of the three quarters of parliamentary seats up for contention in both lower and upper houses (the final quarter being reserved for the military). IFES had worked with Myanmar’s Union Election Commission for three years on several aspects of national elections: stakeholder engagement, updating the national voter list, voter education, women’s leadership, and inclusion of people with disabilities.

The breadth and inclusivity of the 33.5 million-person voter list was particularly impressive, with its complete digitization and incorporation of 6.5 million corrections, checked and checked again on a local level. Sweeney pointed out that an inaccurate or incomplete voter list is often the thing that prevents citizens from voting once they reach the polls.

Despite this promising achievement, there is still a long road ahead to reach stable democratic governance. There will be a four-month transition process. As Din pointed out, there are no clear candidates for president, nominated by parliament. The candidate has to be palatable to both parties and cannot have a military background. The constitution bars Suu Kyi from becoming president because her sons are British citizens, but she plans to play the leading role: ‘the president will have no authority,’ she has said.

This transition takes place in the context of long-running civil wars and ongoing peace processes. Fink stated that there is a complex field of contention, with multiple ethnic-minority armed groups arrayed against the military and a long history of distrust. The military and President Thein Sein aren’t united on strategy, with the army continuing to advance into ethnic minority territory.

While a ceasefire was finally signed in October, and passed on Tuesday, only eight of the fifteen armed rebel groups have signed the agreement, which Fink believes plays into the military’s favored strategy of divide and rule. Further, Suu Kyi and the NLD have not as yet weighed in on the issue of the conflict with ethnic rebels or the peace process, though Suu Kyi has has at least stated that her cabinet will have minority representation.

Though there were ethnic minority candidates running with the NLD, no ethnic-minority political party made significant gains in the elections, which also centers the focus on how Suu Kyi will deal with the issue of minority political representation. There were no Muslim candidates at all with the NLD – as Din pointed out, the NLD intentionally excluded them. In Sweeney’s view, lack of Muslim representation is something society at large, as well as all the political parties, will have to confront.

Myanmar is now in a transition period, economically as well as politically, which increases feelings of insecurity and sentiments of exclusionary nationalism amongst its populace, in Fink’s view. Sweeney highlighted interesting parallels with the debate about immigration and citizenship in Europe and the US, as much of Myanmar’s Muslim population immigrated to the country decades ago, and yet have not acquired citizenship.

With the accomplishment of successful elections behind them, Myanmar needs to continue to negotiate issues of citizenship and reconciliation in the hopes of building a more inclusive society.

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Transition matters

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a panel on Thursday entitled “Searching for Answers to Troubled Democratic Transitions,” co-sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). The panel gave Abraham Lowenthal, professor emeritus of International Relations at USC, and Sergio Bitar, non-resident senior fellow and project director at Inter-American Dialogue, the opportunity to present their new book, Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, an edited volume of lengthy interviews the two editors conducted with leaders who oversaw the gradual and successful transition of their countries from autocracy to democracy, as well as with some opposition figures from those countries.

The aim of conducting the interviews was to determine whether lessons can be drawn from earlier transitions in ‘Third Wave’ countries such as Indonesia, Chile, and Ghana and applied during what some have termed a democratic recession. After their overview, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman, contributed comments, while the audience also heard from two experts on countries currently on the cusp of transitions: Priscilla Clapp, senior advisor at the US Institute of Peace and the Asia Society, discussed Myanmar, while Moisés Naím, distinguished fellow at Carnegie, discussed Venezuela.

Carnegie’s vice president for Studies, Thomas Carothers, introduced the panel, remarking that the world has not seen a single new democracy emerge in the past decade. The Arab Spring was a period of hope, but with transitions thwarted in many of those countries, we have also been observing worrying global trends that would seem to suggest the push for democracy has slowed or even begun to reverse. Carothers still believes that the arc of history bends toward democracy, however, and the panelists would appear to agree.

Lowenthal underlined that the aim of the book was not to produce a work of theoretical comparative politics, but to try to distil best practices and recurrent issues for democratic transitions from the experiences of leaders who had lived and struggled through them. The narrative of prior experience can provide general principles that politicians in developing democracies can apply to local problems. Through their interviews, Lowenthal and Bitar observed that a set of issues cropped up in each case, apparently inherent to the process of transitioning. These included the problems of unifying oppositions while marginalizing destabilizing elements within them, preventing violence while separating a legitimate police force from the armed forces, and fighting corruption and impunity, among others.

Lowenthal and Bitar came up with ten imperatives for transition:

  • Move gradually and take every opportunity, not waiting for a ‘better’ choice
  • Maintain a hopeful vision about the process
  • Build coalitions between political parties and social movements
  • Protect the spaces of open dialogue
  • Build a constitution that represents all members of society and institutes a system for problem-solving
  • Enhance and reinforce political parties, or create them if necessary
  • Separate the police from the armed forces and ensure the latter is subject to the government
  • Ensure transitional justice
  • Manage the political economy of transition, to provide the basic conditions for governance
  • and manage external support, so that it converges with domestic forces

Gershman found the book instructive. Despite apparent autocratic resurgence and a crisis of confidence or political dysfunction in many advanced democracies, he thought what is currently occurring should not be understood as a democratic recession, but rather a ‘third reverse wave’ following on the Third Wave of the late 20th century. He offered steps that ought to be taken by advanced democracies to shepherd democratic transitions elsewhere, including a call to regain the will to fight the political and intellectual battle for liberal democratic values.

Gershman was uncompromising; he diverged from Lowenthal and Bitar in rejecting gradualism, saying that we cannot accept hybrid regimes as better than dictatorships. The editors, however, confirmed that all the interviewees had come out strongly in favor of gradual transitions. That is often how transitions transpired successfully.

Clapp found much similarity between the cases described in the book and the situation in Myanmar today, although the transition there is still in early stages and needs to be further developed. The international community entertains very high expectations given Myanmar’s specific history and context: it has been for so long a repressed society and still faces significant challenges in its transition, in military-civilian relations, an economy thoroughly controlled by an oligarchy, and exclusion of ethnic minorities.

Naím presented a dissent. By interviewing leaders only, the book presents one perspective on the transition process. Valuable as this work is, there are significant differences with many of the countries today on the cusp of transitioning, as opposed to the Third Wave countries covered in the book. These ignored factors include the phenomenon of states incorporating crime into their behaviour, as ‘mafia states’ (like Russia or Venezuela); the crucial role oil plays in oil-producing autocracies, shoring up regimes; the outsized influence of foreign actors; the role of social media; and expanding middle classes. Naím also thought it a simplification that militaries are treated as unified institutions, when really within militaries there are numerous factions competing for power.

A key issue remained unresolved: whether the experiences of Third Wave democracies could be applied to countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the future.

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Peace picks July 13-17

1. The Future of the U.S.-India Partnership: Ten Years After the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative | Monday, July 13th | 8:15-5:00 | Carnegie Endowment | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Confederation of Indian Industry for a conference on the future of the U.S.-India partnership, ten years after the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative. Speakers include: William J. Burns, President, Carnegie Endowment, Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, Confederation of Indian Industry, Arun K. Singh, Ambassador of India, Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian and Central Asian Affairs, Condoleeza Rice, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, R. Nicholas Burns, Professor, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, Shyam Saran, Chairman, National Security Advisory Board, Indian Government, Philip D. Zelikow, Professor, University of Virginia, Sumit Mazumder, President, Confederation of the Indian Industry, Rajiv I. Modi, Chairman, Cadila Pharmaceuticals, Deep Kapuria, Chairman, Hi-Tech Gears Ltd., Kaushik Basu, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, World Bank, Stephen J. Hadley, Chairman, Board of Directors, USIP, M.K. Narayanan, Governor of West Bengal in India, Shivshankar Menon, Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, Thomas E. Donilon, Vice Chair, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Robert M. Scher, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, Eliot A. Cohen, Professor of Strategic Studies , School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Vikram J. Singh, Vice-President, National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress and Sukaran Singh, Managing Director and CEO, Tata Advanced Systems. Moderators include: Stephen E. Biegun, Corporate Officer and Vice President of International Governmental Affairs, Ford Motor Company, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, Research Fellow, Cato Institute, William J. Burns, President, Carnegie Endowment and David E. Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent, New York Times.

2. Why Human Rights Matter in Policy toward North Korea | Monday, July 13th | 12:00-2:00 | National Endowment for Democracy | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The 2014 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in North Korea successfully brought international attention to the severity of the Kim regime’s human rights violations and the plight of the North Korean people, and highlighted the need for the international community to do more to address human rights in the isolated country. At the same time, the impact of the COI report on the attitude of the international community is yet to be seen, while nuclear issues remain the primary focus of U.S. policy toward North Korea. In his presentation, Yoshihiro Makino will describe the little understood political situation inside North Korea and discuss how the repression of basic rights is fundamental to the regime’s grip on power. Mr. Makino will base his analysis on information gathered through extensive interviews with North Korea specialists, diplomats, and direct sources with first-hand knowledge. He will then offer suggestions on how the US and the international community can use this knowledge to more effectively address human rights issues in North Korea. His presentation will be followed by comments by Bruce Klingner. Speakers include: Yoshihiro Makino, Expert on East Asian Security, National Endowment for Democracy, Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow, Northeast Asia, Heritage Foundation and Lynn Lee, Senior Program Officer, National Endowment for Democracy.

3. Oil Price Trends and Global Implications | Tuesday, July 14th | 9:00-10:15 | Carnegie Endowment | REGISTER TO ATTEND The sharp drop in oil prices is one of the most important global economic developments over the past year. While oil’s long term price outlook remains highly uncertain, a substantial part of its decline is expected to persist into the medium term. Aasim M. Husain will discuss implications of these developments for the global economy and financial markets, as well as recommended policy responses for key country groups. He will be joined by Mark Finley and Uri Dadush to discuss market trends as well as their economic and political implications for oil-exporting and oil-importing countries. Carnegie’s Michele Dunne will moderate. A light breakfast will be served. Speakers include: Aasim M. Husain, Deputy Director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, International Monetary Fund, Uri Dadush, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment, Mark Finley, General Manager, Global Energy Markets and U.S. Economics at BP. Moderators include: Michele Dunne, Senior Associate, Carnegie’s Middle East Program.

4. The Struggle for Democracy in Myanmar/Burma Tuesday, July 14th | 9:30-11:00 | Brookings Institution | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Myanmar/Burma is in the fourth year of a historic transition out of military rule that began after the junta dissolved itself in March 2011, replaced by an elected parliament and the government led by President Thein Sein. New elections are expected in November for its second government under the 2008 constitution. While expressing commitment to holding a free and fair election, the Thein Sein government has left in place a constitutional obstacle to allowing Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), from becoming the country’s next president. The NLD seems likely to emerge from the new elections with the most seats in the legislature, but may fall short of its landslide victory in the 1990 election, which was not accepted by the ruling military junta.On July 14, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings will host a discussion of Myanmar’s progress over the past four years and the prospects for strengthening democratic rule under the next government. Delphine Schrank, a former reporter with The Washington Post, spent four years among dissidents in Myanmar/Burma and has written a narrative nonfiction account about their epic multi-generational fight for democracy. Her book ‘The Rebel of Rangoon; A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance’ (Nation Books, 2015) will set the stage for the discussion. Speakers include: Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Lex Rieffel, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Priscilla Clapp, Former Chief-Of-Mission, U.S. Embassy in Burma and Richard Bush, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for East Asia Policy Studies.

5. Hearing: Implications of a Nuclear Agreement with Iran (Part III) Tuesday, July 14th | 10:00-1:00 | Rayburn House Office Building | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In announcing the series of hearings, Chairman Royce said:  “As we anticipate a congressional review of the Administration’s possible nuclear agreement with Iran, we’ll be looking to see how the Administration has done on Congress’ red lines.  Did we get anywhere, anytime inspections?  Full Iranian transparency regarding its past nuclear activities? No large-scale, immediate sanctions relief; but guaranteed, workable sanctions snap-backs? Meaningful restraints on Iran’s nuclear program that last decades?  This hearing will be the first in a series the Committee will hold should the Administration strike what might be one of the most significant agreements in decades.  As I have said, no deal is far better than a bad deal.” Speakers include: Joseph I. Lieberman, Co-Chair of the Foundation, Defense of Democracies, General Michael V. Hayden, Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency and R. Nicholas Burns, Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University.

6. Can the IAEA Effectively Verify an Agreement Between Iran and the P5+1? Wednesday, July 15th | 9:30-11:00 | The Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Atlantic Council Iran Task Force and Search for Common Ground invite you to a discussion on the capabilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor a nuclear agreement with Iran. A key issue arising during nuclear negotiations with Iran is the international community’s ability to verify Iran’s compliance with its non-proliferation obligations.  Former IAEA Safeguards Official Thomas Shea will discuss a new paper on the evolution of techniques used to verify a country’s compliance with nuclear safeguards and other non-proliferation obligations. Panelists will also discuss other potential methods to detect – and thus deter – Iran from violating the terms of an agreement.  Speakers include: William Green Miller, Senior Advisor, US-Iran Program, Search for Common Ground, Thomas Shea, Former Safeguards Official, International Atomic Energy Agency, Jim Walsh, Research Associate, Security Studies Program, MIT. Moderators include: Barbara Slavin, Senior Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council.

7.  The Kuwait Crisis 25 Years Later Wednesday, July 15th | 10:00-11:30 | Brookings Institution | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Twenty five years ago this summer, Iraq provoked a crisis with Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, demanding debt cancellation and higher oil prices. It proved to be a ruse for a far more daring plan. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait. Around the world, people feared that Saddam Hussein’s armies would move on to Saudi Arabia. In response, President George H. W. Bush deployed hundreds of thousands of American troops to the Kingdom, recruited an international alliance to support them, and gained United Nations and U.S. congressional support to liberate Kuwait. The Gulf War fundamentally altered American policy toward the Middle East and laid the foundation for the many successes and failures that followed. Today, Americans continue to wrestle with the legacy of the Gulf War and the dilemma that the Middle East has posed to U.S. foreign policy in the years since. On July 15, the Brookings Intelligence Project will host Brookings Senior Fellows Kenneth Pollack and Bruce Riedel to reflect on the Kuwait crisis a quarter century later, looking back on 1990 and forward from 2015. They will discuss this crucial turning point and its significance for the region and the United States. Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project, will moderate the discussion. Following their remarks, Pollack and Riedel will take questions from the audience. Speakers include: Kenneth M. Pollack, Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution and Bruce Riedel, Director, Intelligence Project, Brookings Institution.

8. Considerations and constraints for U.S., EU and Turkish Engagement in the South Caucusus Wednesday, July 15th | 10:30-12:00 | Brookings Institution | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Harsh geopolitical realities and historic legacies have pushed the South Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia back onto the foreign policy agendas of the United States, the European Union (EU), and Turkey, at a time when all three have pulled back from more activist roles in regional affairs. Western disengagement has exacerbated some of the more negative regional trends by signaling disinterest and a lack of commitment toward resolving ongoing conflicts and challenges. These current dynamics create several policy challenges for the region and beyond, including whether the festering crises in the Caucasus will feed into broader conflagrations; whether the United States, EU, and Turkey re-evaluate their involvement in the region in light of Russia’s assertive new foreign policy; and whether given other priorities, can the West muster sufficient political will to re-engage, within limits, in high-level regional diplomacy?

On July 15, the Brookings Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) will host a panel to discuss a new report, Retracing the Caucasian Circle, co-authored by Fiona Hill, Kemal Kirişci, and Andrew Moffatt. In the paper, the authors provide an overview of the geopolitical and security issues facing Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia and their consequences for relations with the West. The report advocates that in spite of major challenges these three actors should not give up on their engagement of the region and should adopt realistic approaches which can be sustained. Speakers include: Fiona Hill, Director, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution, Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. State Department, Unal Cevikoz, President, Ankara Policy Center and Klaus Botzet, Head of the Political, Security and Development Section, Delegation of the European Union to the U.S. Moderators include: Kemal Kirisci, Director, Turkey Project, Brookings Institution.

9. Religious Freedom: Rising Threats to a Fundamental Human Right| Thursday, July 16th | 9:30-4:15 | Copley Formal Lounge | REGISTER TO ATTEND | According to the Pew Research Center, governmental and social restrictions on religion continue to rise. Today 77 percent of the world’s population lives in religiously repressive countries. This conference will examine the severe and growing challenges facing minority religions around the world—including in the Middle East, Western Europe, Myanmar, and Russia—and will give special attention to how religious persecution affects women and girls. A central question will be whether and how US international religious freedom policy can improve conditions for religious minorities abroad and the societies in which they live. Speakers include: Ken Starr, Baylor University, 

Congressman Keith Ellison,  House of Representatives (D-Minnesota), Katrina Lantos Swett, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Engy Abdelkader, Rutgers University and American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC

Thomas Farr, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University

, Brian Grim, Religious Freedom and Business Foundation

, Elizabeth Cassidy, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Aisha Rahman, KARAMAH, Jacqueline Rivers, Harvard Kennedy School, Frank Wolf, Baylor University and retired House of Representatives (R-Virginia)

, Mark Schickman, American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, Timothy Samuel Shah, Religious Freedom Project
. Moderators include: 

Richard Foltin, American Jewish Committee (AJC) and American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities

 and Claudia Winkler, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University.

10. Civil Resistance and Peacebuilding: How They ConnectThursday, July 16th | 10:00-11:00 | United States Institute of Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The rise of nonviolent, people power movements around the world has become a defining feature of the 21st century. While some have deteriorated into violent conflict, organized citizen campaigns using nonviolent methods are challenging formidable opponents: unaccountable governance, systemic corruption, institutionalized discrimination, environmental degradation, dictatorship, foreign military occupation, and violent extremism. Their “weapons” are not guns or bombs, but rather protests, boycotts, sit-ins, civil disobedience, building of alternative institutions, and hundreds of other nonviolent means. Combined with the use of traditional political and legal approaches, these movements continue to shape political, social, and economic change across the globe.

This panel will explore how nonviolent civil resistance and peacebuilding reinforce each other. How does civic mobilization fit into the larger peacebuilding agenda? How have nonviolent campaigns and movements contributed to long-term peace and stability? What are the theoretical and practical linkages that might prevent violent conflict and advance a “just peace”? Speakers include: Nancy Lindborg, President, USIP, Kerri Kennedey, Associate General Secretary for International Porgrams, American Friends Service Committee, Manal Omar, Acting Vice President, Center for Middle East and Africa, USIP. Moderators include: Maria Stephan, Senior Policy Fellow, USIP.

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Lame duck flies

I’m no Asia expert, but President Obama’s performance at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last week, in Myanmar and at the G20 in Australia looks damn good to me. Besides sporting his Chinese getup better than most of the other leaders, he has managed some serious bilateral moves:

  • Prospective lowered tariffs on high tech between China and the US;
  • New commitments by the two countries to reduce carbon emissions;
  • Agreement with Beijing on avoiding military confrontations;
  • Agreement with India on its food subsidy system that will unblock trade negotiations;
  • Strong support for democratic transition in Burma/Myanmar;
  • Embarrassment of Vladimir Putin for continuing to assert Russian troops are not in Ukraine.

Foreign travel and foreign policy are not unusual moves for a president in trouble. This one has used them well to do things that were planned and executed carefully. He is not looking or acting like a lame duck, especially if you throw in his preparations for a major executive move on immigration, his apparent willingness (in my view unwise) to block the XL pipeline from Canada, and the prospect of a nuclear deal with Iran.

What he hasn’t done yet is to deal effectively with two current wars: against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and in Ukraine.

Despite Canadian Prime Minister’s blunt “you need to get out of Ukraine,” the Russians are still pouring men and materiel into separatist areas of southeast Ukraine. Putin was chivalrous in Beijing, offering of his coat to Xi Jinping’s wife. It behooves him to behave well towards the Chinese customers for Russia’s gas and oil.  But his best behavior did nothing to hide his decidedly aggressive stance in Europe, where Moscow is not only invading Ukraine but also challenging NATO’s borders with close approaches of aircraft. President Obama needs to think hard about whether there isn’t more we can do to respond to Russian aggression, whether by military or diplomatic means.

ISIS’ rapid advances have been stopped, but it is still consolidating its control over eastern Syria and western Iraq. It is making mistakes in doing so, including mass atrocities against Sunni tribes that will no doubt be motive for revenge by their surviving relatives. Some Sunni tribes are even welcoming Shia militias to help them fight ISIS. Iraqi government forces have reportedly broken the ISIS siege of the country’s only oil refinery, and Kurdish forces have retaken some towns in the north.

But there seems to be no hope for a serious Iraqi army offensive against ISIS before spring. While coalition air attacks make life tactically difficult for the caliphate’s fighters, they are not faltering strategically. ISIS is far more than the small terrorist group President Obama likes to talk about. It is a serious insurgency that will require someone–be it Iraqi government or Syrian opposition–to conduct a serious counter-insurgency campaign. Killing a few of its leaders and cadres is not going to turn the tide. There are reports this weekend of a plan to accelerate arming of the Syrian opposition. That is long overdue. A commitment to protect it when it moves into Syria should be forthcoming as well.

So yes, Mr. President, you had a good week in Asia. The lame duck showed he could fly. But things are still bad in Europe and the Middle East. Welcome home!

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Peace picks July 14-18

1. Ending Wars to Build Peace: Conflict Termination Workshop Monday, July 14 | 8:30 am – 1:00 pm United States Institute of Peace; 2301 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND Designing a conflict termination strategy is an essential but often overlooked component of warfighting. Improperly planned or incorrectly implemented, a failure to effectively terminate a conflict will leave open the original issues that brought on the war and likely create the conditions for future conflict.  The U.S. Institute of Peace, U.S. Military Academy’s Center for the Study of Civil-Military Operations and RAND Corporation invite you to an event featuring notable experts sharing their observations and concerns about the issue of war termination, its planning, transition and challenges.  SPEAKERS: Gideon Rose, Author, How Wars End, Amb. Jim Jeffery, Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Hon. James Kunder, Former Deputy Administrator, USAID, Lt General Mark Milley, Commander, U.S. Army III Corps, and Dr. Rick Brennan Senior Political Scientist, RAND.

2. Ukraine: The Maidan and Beyond Monday, July 14 | 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm National Endowment for Democracy;1025 F Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND The forthcoming July 2014 issue of the Journal of Democracy will feature a cluster of eight articles on Ukraine. Please join NDI as four of the contributors elaborate on the subjects discussed in their articles. Serhiy Kudelia analyzes the evolution of Ukraine’s political system during the past four years and why it led to the downfall of President Viktor Yanukovych. Lucan Way assesses the role that civil society played in bringing down Yanukovych and the challenges that it will now face. Anders Aslund examines the “endemic corruption” that has long plagued Ukraine and goes on to suggest how the new government can rebuild the country’s economy. Finally, Nadia Diuk considers the longer-term significance of the Maidan Revolution.

3. Doing Business in Burma: Human Rights Risks and Reporting Requirements Tuesday, July 15 | 8:15 am – 10:00 am Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law; 500 8th St. NW, Washington D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND In 2012, the U.S. lifted economic sanctions on resource-rich Burma, sanctions that had been in place for over a decade. American businesses are required to publicly report to the State Department on the potential human rights, environmental, and political impacts of their investments if they exceed $500,000. Some of the questions that will be addressed: How can the Reporting Requirements guide companies and their attorneys in assessing and managing the risks that accompany new investment in Burma? Why is the information contained in the reports valuable to the State Department and other organizations? SPEAKERS: Amy Lehr, Attorney, Foley Hoag LLP, Jason Pielemeier, Esq., U.S. Department of State/DRL, Genevieve Taft, Global Manager of Workplace Rights, Coca-Cola, and Jennifer Quigley, Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma.

4. New Story Leadership for the Middle East Congressional Forum Tuesday, July 15 | 10:00 am – 2:00 pm New Story Leadership; Cannon House Office Building, 200-299 New Jersey Ave SE, Washington D.C.
 REGISTER TO ATTEND New Story Leadership for the Middle East is presents their class of 2014, featuring presentations from young Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are living, working, and learning together this summer in Washington, DC. Young voices throughout the world have decisively spoken up for change, demanding new leadership, greater freedom, and the right to choose their own futures. Now a new generation of Israelis and Palestinians wants to engage you in an emerging conversation by sharing their stories and their hopes for peace.

5. For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty Tuesday, June 15 | 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm Heritage Foundation;214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND While much progress has been made toward poverty alleviation, many well-intentioned efforts have led Christians to actions that are not only ineffective, but leave the most vulnerable in a worse situation than before. Is there a better answer? Combining biblical exegesis with proven economic principles, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty equips Christians with both a solid biblical and economic understanding of how best to care for the poor and foster sustainable economic development. With contributions from fourteen leading Christian economists, theologians, historians, and practitioners, For the Least of These presents the case for why markets and trade are the world’s best hope for alleviating poverty. SPEAKERS: Dr. Anne Bradley, Dr. Art Lindsley, Michael Craven, and Derrick Morgan.

6. The Madrid 3/11 Bombings, Jihadist Networks in Spain, and the Evolution of Terrorism in Western Europe Tuesday, June 15 | 2:00 pm – 3:50 pm Brooking Institute; 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND Ten years after the terror attacks in Madrid, Professor Fernando Reinares, a senior analyst within Elcano Royal Institute, has published a definitive account of the attacks. Reinares provides evidence showing that the decision to attack Spain was made in December 2001 in Pakistan by Moroccan Amer Azizim and that the Madrid bombing network began its formation more than one year before the start of the Iraq war. Spain battles the challenge of jihadist radicalization and recruitment networks that are sending fighters to join the wars in Syria and elsewhere. On July 15, the Intelligence Project at Brookings will host Professor Reinares for a discussion on his book’s revelations, the empirical data on the evolution of jihadism in Spain and the future of terrorism in Western Europe.

7. Forgotten, but Not Gone: The Continuing Threat of Boko Haram Tuesday, June 15 | 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm International Institute for Strategic Studies; 2121 K Street NW, Suite 801, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND The furor of the #BringBackOurGirls movement has faded rapidly and Boko Haram’s insurgency, now in its fourth year, has again been largely forgotten by the international media, despite the fact that violence has continued in the form of mass killings, attacks in the capital, Abuja, and new abductions. Virginia Comolli will be discussing the implications of Boko Haram’s insurgency for Nigeria, repercussions for other West African countries and the role of non-African partners in dealing with the security challenges the group presents. Comolli is the Research Fellow running the newly established IISS Security and Development Programme.

8. Petrocaribe, Central America, and the Caribbean: Who Will Subsidize the Future? Wednesday, July 16 | 8:30 am – 10:30 am Atlantic Council of the United States; 1030 15th St. NW, 12th Floor, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND US Vice President Joe Biden used his recent trip to Latin America to announce a new initiative to promote energy security in the Caribbean. Is it enough? Join the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center for a timely discussion on the future of Petrocaribe.  The huge Venezuelan oil subsidy enters its tenth year, and continues to provide Caracas with political support from its closest neighbors – but at what cost to the region? Given Venezuela’s economic demise, will Petrocaribe continue delivering into the future?  Now is the moment to examine energy alternatives for the Caribbean and Central America. This event will launch the Atlantic Council’s new report, Uncertain Energy: The Caribbean’s Gamble with Venezuela, authored by Arsht Center Senior Nonresident Energy Fellow David L. Goldwyn and his associate, Cory R. Gill.

9. The Resurgence of the Taliban Wednesday, June 16 | 10:30 am – 12:00 pm Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND In autumn 2001, U.S. and NATO troops were deployed to Afghanistan to unseat Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers. Yet, despite a more than decade-long attempt to eradicate them, the Taliban has endured—regrouping and reestablishing themselves as a significant insurgent movement. Hassan Abbas, author of The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier, will examine how the Taliban not only survived but adapted to regain power and political advantage. Carnegie’s Frederic Grare will moderate.

10. Citizens, Subjects, and Slackers: Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian Attitudes Toward Paying Taxes Wednesday, June 16 | 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm Woodrow Wilson Center; 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND Marc Berenson’s unique surveys of Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians, conducted from 2004 to 2012 regarding their attitudes towards paying taxes, illustrate that Polish citizens express a far greater willingness and support for paying taxes than Russian citizens, who, in turn, are more willing taxpayers than Ukrainian citizens.  Unlike Poles, whose compliance is related to their trust in the state, and Russians, whose compliance is related to their fear of the state, Ukrainians, showing the lowest support for tax obedience, have reacted to state efforts to increase compliance with less fear and little trust. This suggests that post-transition governments must find ways to create and build up levels of trust on the part of citizens in their state, but that bridging the exceptionally high and long-held levels of distrust in the Ukrainian state will remain an extreme challenge for those seeking a new rule-of-law Ukraine. Kennan Institute Global Fellow, Amb. Kenneth Yalowitz, will provide discussion.

11. Fixing the US Department of Veterans Affairs: Prospects for Reform Thursday, June 17 | 10:00 am – 11:30 am American Enterprise Institute; 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND Recent scandals at medical centers for veterans have trained a spotlight on longstanding inefficiencies within the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In the case of the VA’s disability system, a nearly century-old approach to wounded veterans still prevails. The widespread consensus is that the problem goes much deeper than falsified waiting lists and delayed access to care, and necessitates a global overhaul. What would a renewed vision of veteran care look like, and how should we clarify the objectives of the VA’s disability system? In the interim, what short-term reforms are practical? Join AEI as House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller presents a blueprint for reform, followed by a discussion with experts in health care, disability, and public administration. Other speakers include Michael H. McLendon, Joseph Antos, Richard V. Burkhauser, Peter Schuck, and Sally Satel.

12. Beyond Air-Sea Battle: The Debate Over US Military Strategy in Asia with Professor Aaron Friedberg Thursday, June 17 | 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm IISS; 2121 K Street NW, Suite 801, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND China’s military build-up, particularly the expansion of its long-range nuclear forces and its development of ‘anti-access/area-denial’ (A2/AD) capabilities, poses a serious threat to both the American position in East Asia and the security of other regional powers. The growth of these forces challenges Washington’s ability, and perhaps its willingness, to project power into the region. This could call American security guarantees into question, eventually undermining the United States’ place as the dominant Asia-Pacific power. Left unchecked, perceived shifts in the regional military balance away from the US and its allies towards China could also raise the risks of miscalculation and deterrence failure. Professor Aaron Friedberg of Prince University will be launching his new Adelphi series book, Beyond Air-Sea Battle: The Debate Over US Military Strategy in Asia.” He will be joined by discussant Elbridge Colby, the Robert M. Gates Fellow at the Center for New American Security.

13. Putting Military Personnel Costs in Context: Analysis by AEI and BPC Friday, July 18 | 9:00 am – 10:00 am Russell Senate Office Building; Constitution Avenue and 1st Street, NE, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND According to a new study by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the per capita cost of military personnel on active duty increased by 42 percent over the last decade. Overall, growth in cost was much faster than growth in the number of people serving. AEI and BPC invite you to a conversation about the cost trends impacting America’s professional volunteer force and their implications for the future. SPEAKERS: Linda Bilmes, Charlie Houy, Scott Lilly, Ann Sauer, and Charles Wald.

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