Tag: European Union

Peace picks March 26-31

  1. Islam in France | Monday, March 27 | 10:30-12:00pm | The Brookings Institution | Register Here | After a series of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016, security issues are among the primary concerns of French voters heading into this spring’s presidential elections. As the European country with the largest Muslim minority, the issue of Islam in France and how to tackle terrorism is particularly fraught, and it is interwoven into broader debates about immigration, nationality, identity, secularism, and social cohesion. Furthermore, with right-wing politicians across Europe eager to galvanize their electorates, they have intensified concerns, incited Islamophobia, and exploited public misunderstandings of the teachings and practices of Islam. To provide a broader portrait of Islam in France and dispel misapprehensions surrounding the fraught dynamics of mosque and state, the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne has recently released a data-driven report on Muslims living in France. On March 27, Brookings will host a panel discussion with Project Director Hakim El Karoui and Senior Counselor Dominique Moïsi of the Institut Montaigne to unpack the conventional wisdom and polemics about Muslims in France. The panelists will consider whether better policies can be implemented that address the root causes of radicalization in French society, such as socioeconomic marginalization and inequality, while increasing safety and security. Shadi Hamid of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings will also provide remarks, and Philippe Le Corre of CUSE will moderate the conversation.
  2. The Russian Military in Ukraine and Syria: Lessons for the United States | Tuesday March 28 | 4:00pm | The Atlantic Council | Register Here | The recent escalation of military activities in Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine and military power projection in Syria demonstrate massive improvements in Moscow’s military capabilities. Russia is using hybrid warfare and conventional military operations to achieve its geopolitical goals: apply massive pressure against the democratically elected government of Ukraine, keep Kyiv from European integration, and punish Ukraine for its Western and Euro-Atlantic choices. It also has created a credible threat against the Baltic states – NATO members. In Syria, Russia-led military operations successfully buttressed the Assad regime, assured Russian military presence in strategic coastal towns of Tartus and Latakiya, and established an air base in Khmeimim. The Russian military has learned to coordinate operations with several Middle Eastern allies: the Syrian Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Hezbollah terrorist organization. Apart from Moscow’s geopolitical objectives, these operations are designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of Russian-made weapons to potential foreign buyers, to test new Russian military capabilities, and to display new capacities to potential adversaries. Russia is now the main adversary of NATO in Europe and the second great power in the Levant – after the United States and its allies. The Atlantic Council will bring together a panel of experts to discuss Russia’s military power and the lessons learned from Russia’s military performance in Syria and Ukraine. The panelists are Evelyn Farkas, Senior Fellow at Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Alexander Golts, Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Yezhenedelny Zhurnal, and Brigadier General (Ret.) Peter Zwack, Senior Russia-Eurasia Fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies.
  3. The Baltic States in the Trump Administration: A Conversation with Foreign Minister of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania | Tuesday, March 28 | 6:30-8:30pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | In 1991, one year after the Baltic States regained their independence, Hudson Institute hosted the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at its Conference on the Baltics—the first ever such event outside the Baltic region. The United States has since developed a special relationship with each country, marked by their accession to NATO and the EU in 2004. Together, these countries constitute the easternmost members of both the EU and NATO. Now, after years of calm, the security and political situation in Europe is again at a crossroads. The Russian intervention in Ukraine and the political crises of the EU pose increasing challenges to Europe. A quarter century after the Conference on the Baltic States, Hudson Institute is honored to host the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to discuss the view from Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius—and the opportunities and challenges confronting each.
  4. The Inaugural Haleh Esfandiari Forum Event with Secretary Madeleine Albright | Wednesday, March 29 | 2:00-3:00pm | The Wilson Center | Register Here | Join us for the inaugural Haleh Esfandiari Forum event. The Haleh Esfandiari Forum at the Wilson Center is a series of public events focused on women’s empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This joint initiative by the Middle East Program (MEP) and the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative (GWLI) honors Haleh Esfandiari’s commitment to promoting women’s empowerment and her leadership of MEP from its inception in 1998 through 2015.
  5. Egypt and the United States Under the Trump Administration | Thursday, March 30 | 2:00-3:30pm | Project on Middle East Democracy | Register Here | President Donald Trump has signaled a desire to build even closer ties to the Egyptian government, a policy shift that poses significant potential risks for the United States due to Egypt’s deteriorating human rights conditions. Ahead of President Sisi’s upcoming visit to Washington, join us to take stock of the situation on the ground in Egypt and examine potential changes to the U.S.-Egypt relationship. The panelists include Michele Dunne, Director and Senior Fellow of the Middle East Program at Carnegie; Bahey Eldin Hassan, Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Moataz El Fegiery, Protection Coordinator of Middle East and North Africa at Front Line Defenders, and Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2014-2017.
  6. The Yemen Conflict in Perspective: Geopolitical and Humanitarian Challenges | Friday, March 31 | 9:00-2:00pm | The Middle East Institute | Register Here | Yemen is gripped by clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces, interference by regional actors, and a failure to complete the political transition following the 2011 uprisings against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This instability has created an opening for the militants of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and a devastating humanitarian impact. How can international engagement take into account the domestic and geopolitical forces at work, secure a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and combat the extremist threat? What are the challenges faced by humanitarian aid organizations that operate in Yemen, and how can the international community confront the coming challenge of reconstruction and repair of the damaged country? Speakers include Amb. (ret.) Wendy Chamberlin, President of the Middle East Institute; Ismail Ould Chaikh Ahmed, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen; Mohammed Abulahoum, Justice & Building Party of Yemen; E. Ahmed Awad Binmubarak, Ambassador of Yemen to the United States; The Honorable Anne Patterson, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; Nadwa al-Dawsari, Nonresident Senior Fellow at POMED; Albert Jaeger, Mission Chief for Yemen, IMF; and Nabil Shaiban, Senior Operations Officer at the World Bank.
  7. Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal: Report Launch and Panel Discussion | Friday, March 31 | 10:00-11:30am | Center for Strategic & International Studies | Register Here | Although the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program is working, the United States has largely been unable or unwilling to deter Iran’s incremental extension of regional power and threshold testing in the Middle East. A new report by the International Security Program at CSIS, “Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal,” seeks to better understand and analyze Iran’s strategy, motivations, and military and paramilitary development; explores a set of policy pathways for the United States to counter challenges from Iran; and provides a recommended Iran deterrence strategy for the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress to consider. Join us for the report launch of “Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal,” featuring a panel discussion on Iran’s regional activities post-JCPOA, implications for the Middle East, and policy options for the Trump administration and U.S. Congress to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior and capability development. Panelists include Gen Charles Q. Brown Jr., USAF, Deputy Commander for US Central Command; Dr. Colin Kahl, Associate Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University; Mr. Michael Singh, Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Dr. Jon Alterman, Senior Vice President and Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS.
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Peace picks March 20-27

1. Addressing the North Korean Threat: A Discussion with Congressman Joe Wilson | Monday, March 20th | 11:30-1:00PM | The Hudson Institute | Register Here |

Hudson Institute will host a timely conversation on the growing threat of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs to the Unites States and our East Asian allies. U.S. Representative Joe Wilson, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Readiness Subcommittee, will join Hudson missile defense and East Asia security experts Rebeccah Heinrichs and Arthur Herman for an in-depth discussion on the status of Pyongyang’s weapons development activities and how the U.S. and our regional allies should respond to bolster their security.

2. From Scarcity to Security: Water as a Resource for Middle East Peacebuilding | Monday, March 20th | 12:00-2:00 PM | The Elliot School | Register Here |

In the Middle East, water has often constituted a source of tension between Israel, the Palestinians and neighboring states. In recent years, however, regional leaders have increasingly identified water security as a shared interest that transcends borders – and even a potential avenue for peacebuilding. Join Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director, EcoPeace Middle East and Marina Djernaes, Director, EcoPeace Center for Water Security for a discussion on this resource.

For two decades, the EcoPeace Middle East organization has engaged Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians in the joint promotion of practical solutions to transboundary problems of scarcity and pollution. In the process, they have fostered regional alliances, built environmental infrastructure, altered allocation policies, and shined spotlights on the environmental crises facing sacred sites such as the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. This panel will draw on decades of civil society and intergovernmental experience to highlight the potential of water security as a catalyst for peace building in the Middle East and beyond.

3. Rebuilding Syria: Reconstruction and Legitimacy | Tuesday, March 21st | 12:30 | The Atlantic Council | Register Here |

The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East is launching a new initiative, Rebuilding Syria: Reconstruction and Legitimacy. Over the next two years, the Hariri Center will pool expertise from multiple specialists to cover the many challenges of rebuilding Syria including in: economics, finance, development, infrastructure, political economy, civil society, food security, energy, law, and employment. More than just a cursory overview, the initiative will produce a strategic roadmap to reconstruction with the participation of Syrians and the support of the international community.

The Hariri Center invites you to a discussion on the technical and political challenges ahead for rebuilding Syria with country and development experts on March 21, 2017 from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. at the Atlantic Council headquarters in Washington, D.C. Our panelists will include Dr. Osama Kadi, president of the Syrian Economic Task Force, Mr. Todd Diamond, Middle East director for Chemonics International, Mona Yacoubian, former deputy assistant administrator for the Middle East at the US Agency for International Development, and Bassam Barabandi, former Syrian diplomat and co-founder of People Demand Change. The conversation will be moderated by Hariri Center Senior Fellow Faysal Itani. Mr. Omar Shawaf, chairman and founder of BINAA, will give introductory remarks.

4. A Conversation with His Excellency Gebran Bassil, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, The Republic of Lebanon| Tuesday, March 21st | 3:00-4:00 PM | The Wilson Center | Register Here |

The Lebanon Ideas Forum is an assemblage of scholars, journalists, policymakers, and diplomats who will discuss issues concerning Lebanon, its wider region, and relations with the United States and Europe. This event is the inaugural event in the Lebanon Ideas Forum series. The Lebanon Ideas Forum is part of a greater strategic partnership between the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center and Safadi Foundation USA, which was established in 2017.  Join the Wilson Center this Tuesday for a discussion with Lara Alameh, President of the Board and CEO, Safadi Foundation USA, and Gebran Bassil, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, The Republic of Lebanon.

5. Securing Southeastern Europe: A New Model for Progress in the Balkans? | Tuesday, March 21st | 4:00 PM | The Atlantic Council | Register Here

Please join the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative on Tuesday, March 21 at 4:00 p.m. for a conversation with the foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Montenegro, as they discuss security cooperation in the Western Balkans.

At this public event, Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati, Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic, and Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier will jointly discuss their perspective on the security challenges facing Southeastern Europe, as well as their insights on addressing issues ranging from Islamic radicalization and terrorist threats to the completion of Montenegro’s NATO accession process.

6. The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein and US policy in Iraq | Wednesday, March 22nd | 10:00-11:30 | Brookings | Register Here |

On March 22, the Brookings Intelligence Project will host former CIA analyst John Nixon to outline his findings from his interrogation of Hussein, and what lessons he believes can be learned. Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project, will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion. Following their remarks, Riedel and Nixon will take questions from the audience.

7. U.S.- Iran Relations: Opportunities for the New Administration | Wednesday, March 22nd | 11:30-12:30 | The Wilson Center | Register Here |

Ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent hostage situation, Iran-US relations have been characterized by mutual misperceptions. The nuclear deal of June 2015 between Iran and the “P5+1” came to fruition against this backdrop, in large part due to the efforts of The Right Honourable Catherine Ashton, Baroness of Upholland, Former Vice President of the European Commission and former High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

The July 2015 deal was an unprecedented step towards rebuilding that trust, though tensions are being fueled by military cooperation with Russia in Syria and new sanctions announced by the Trump administration. The new administration faces familiar challenges in relations with Iran, but also some key strategic and economic opportunities. Rob Litwak, Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies, will moderate a discussion between Baroness Ashton and Ambassador Sherman who well know these challenges and opportunities, and can speak to how the U.S. can be appealing to their strategic interests using diplomacy and negotiations.

8. The Impact of Gender Norms on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia | Wednesday, March 22nd | 12:00-1:00 | The Elliot School | Register Here |

Dr. Hala Aldosari will lead a discussion on the impact of gender norms on the construction of women’s roles and identity in Saudi Arabia. Analysis of key limitations of personal status laws, planning of women’s health services and the concepts of legislation on violence against women will be presented. The talk will also delve into the role of state and non-state agents in shaping the discourse on gender norms and roles, in light of the recent economic and political trends.

Hala Aldosari received her PhD and postdoctoral training in health services research and the social determinants of women’s health. Her research and publications are focused on the intersection of gender, laws, health and political identity in Saudi Arabia. She works on different projects to promote women’s rights and prevention from violence against women and girls. In 2016, she won the Freedom award for her leading role to promote human rights and democracy in Saudi Arabia.

9. Reaffirming the U.S.-Taiwan Security Relationship | Friday, March 24th | 12:00-2:00 PM | The Hudson Institute | Register Here |

As President Donald Trump meets with China’s President Xi Jinping next month, one subject that is likely to be discussed is Taiwan. President Trump has inherited a clear and long-established diplomatic and security structure pledged to defend Taiwan, its democratic political institutions, and the freedoms its people enjoy. The keystones of U.S. relations with Taiwan are the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances which established guidelines for U.S. policy toward Taiwan over the last four decades. The Six Assurances addressed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, set a fixed stance on sovereignty issues, and guaranteed that previous agreements calling for U.S. assistance to defend Taiwan would remain firmly in effect.

On March 24, Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower will host a distinguished panel of experts to examine the Trump administration’s stance on Taiwan and the outlook for existing agreements to protect Taiwan. Hudson senior fellows Seth Cropsey and William Schneider will be joined by Dennis Wilder, a professor at Georgetown University, and Ian Easton of the Project 2049 Institute. The panel will assess what is needed to fulfill and fortify the existing agreements with Taiwan and assure not only this partnership, but the U.S.’s entire network of regional and global alliances.

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Kosovo’s security force is an opportunity

Kosovo’s Albanian leadership–President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of the Parliament–have decided to proceed with building the country’s national army, even though their proposition lacks Serb support and has made at least some in NATO and the US embassy uncomfortable. The impatience is easy to understand: Serb refusal to go along has blocked this move for years, even as pressure to complete Kosovo’s sovereignty has grown in the Albanian part of the electorate. NATO isn’t going to stick around forever, though its commitment to Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will remain vital to both.

What about the wisdom of this move?

I would certainly have preferred the conversion to a serious security force be undertaken with Serb support, or at least abstention. That’s what Pristina has been trying to do for several years. But Belgrade is opposed and controls enough Serb votes inside the Kosovo parliament to block a constitutional amendment, even if some Kosovo Serbs could be convinced. Patience has not won the day. Now the Albanian political leadership is proceeding with what we call in negotiation theory their “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA).

The proposal to move forward is legislative, not constitutional. I won’t comment on the legalities–that’s not my forte.

The outcome of this maneuver depends in part on Belgrade’s BATNA. Serbia will certainly appeal to the international community to block the Albanians from proceeding. It will likely use the votes it controls in Kosovo’s parliament to block other legislation. It may stiffen its resistance to re-integration of the Serb-majority north of the country. It could even move tanks to the boundary/border and threaten intervention if there is any harm to Serbs in Kosovo, though that would set up an unwelcome confrontation with NATO.

None of this will stop the Albanians I imagine. It will also be counter-productive, as it will make it harder for the Albanian political leadership to back down.

I’ll offer an alternative, one entirely within the capacity of the Belgrade and Pristina politicians to embark upon.

The kind of army Kosovo requires depends entirely on the threat environment it faces. If the threat from Serbia were removed, Kosovo could opt for a small, mobile armed force designed for international deployments. It would no longer need a ground force capable of resisting a Serbian incursion, at least for a few days. Instead Kosovo could begin to pay back an international community that has devoted massive resources to it.

The way to remove the Serbian threat is diplomatic recognition of Kosovo, in exchange for that smaller and more mobile Kosovo security force. If diplomatic recognition is a bridge too far, allowing Kosovo into the United Nations might suffice, but then exchange of diplomatic representatives with the rank of ambassador would still have to follow.

Neither of these moves is likely right now. Serbia will hold a presidential election April 2, with a possible second round April 16. Kosovo is not due for parliamentary elections until 2018, though they could come earlier. If they don’t, the period between April and December would be the best available time for a deal on the security forces and diplomatic recognition of some sort. The politicians in Pristina and Belgrade will know better than I do whether this is in the realm of the possible.

Failing a deal, we can expect heightened tensions, which are all too apparent throughout the Balkans, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The Russians are doing their best to make things worse, by backing secessionist moves by Milorad Dodik’s Republika Srpska in Bosnia and undermining prospects for successful government formation in Macedonia. Washington, paralyzed by a messy political transition and lack of clarity about its foreign policy, is contributing to uncertainty. Brussels, preoccupied with Brexit as well as important elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany is not doing any better.

Kosovo’s small security force is not an insoluble issue. But it will take a bit of imagination and risk-taking to resolve it in a way that satisfies at least some of the aspirations of both Serbs and Albanians. The time for courageous political leadership is nigh.

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The Moscow connection

The current furor over the Trump campaign’s links to Moscow is still generating more heat than light. This morning’s news that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court last fall authorized tapping of his phones suggests there is fire as well as smoke. The FISA court would issue a warrant only if the requester demonstrates

probable cause to believe that the “target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power,” that “a significant purpose” of the surveillance is to obtain “foreign intelligence information,” and that appropriate “minimization procedures” are in place.

The original report of the wiretap refers explicitly to FISA authorization.

The vital question is whether there was coordination or cooperation with Russia’s concerted efforts to tilt the election in Trump’s direction. I haven’t seen an answer. Attorney General Sessions’ recusal from any investigation of the Moscow connection is no more than a procedural step in the right direction, one he should have taken even before it was revealed that he lied at his Senate confirmation hearing about contacts with the Russians.

The debate now is over a special prosecutor or an independent commission. I don’t really care which, so long as whoever investigates can collect and see all the intelligence available, without undue influence by the administration. That is no small order: it means independent people with courage, high-level clearances and a year, or more likely two, before we know the results.

That’s a long time to leave people in office who may have collaborated with a foreign power in getting elected. But at the same time it virtually ensures that President Trump will not be able to do anything really harmful with Russia. As Steve Walt tweeted this week, he would have to get a very good deal from President Putin in order to convince even the Republicans in Congress to go along. Presidents Bush and Obama tried hard and failed. Short of giving away Crimea, it is unlikely Putin would make a deal. Republican Senators have already made it clear they won’t put up with that.

Frustrated, Trump is likely to turn his venom on Iran. He won’t tear up the nuclear deal, because even the Israelis have come to believe it is better than no deal at this point, since the Europeans would not agree to reimpose sanctions unless the Iranians violate the agreement. But Trump might well push for more sanctions related to Iran’s missile program or more pushback against its forces and proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain. That however would give Iran good reason to solidify its alliance with Russia, making any attempt at rapprochement with Moscow even more unlikely to succeed.

So Trump’s bromance with Putin is not going to be consummated. Moscow knows and has already toned down its media enthusiasm for its favorite American presidential candidate. Trump is still enamored, but with H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser and James Mattis as Secretary of Defense it will be hard to move the machinery of government into support for a bad deal with Moscow. Rex Tillerson, who might feel differently, is proving a non-entity at the State Department, where he is fighting a rearguard action against giant budget cuts rather than contributing to foreign policy.

The Trump Administration has anyway done little to clarify its distinct foreign policy views other than intensifying drone strikes in Yemen, canning the Trans Pacific Partnership intended to counter increasing Chinese influence in the Asia Pacific, and claiming to have started on design of the wall with Mexico. Mostly Trump has abandoned his previous radical views. He is not moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, nor is he abandoning the NATO Alliance. Even renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement is looking dicey, because Mexico and Canada have made it clear they will come to the table with their own demands. Trump has now reaffirmed the One China policy.

The Administration has not however changed its radical view on the European Union, which Trump regards as disadvantageous to the US. He should consult his friends in Moscow on that subject: they are determined to block expansion of EU membership and influence, which Putin views as an instrument that benefits the US. Trump could learn a lot from Putin, if only he would stop liking the guy (and doing his bidding) and start understanding that an autocratic Moscow is not democratic America’s best friend. That would require Trump to identify as a democratic leader, which he doesn’t. That’s the real Moscow connection.

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The bigotry of low expectations

President Trump of course said nothing like what I had suggested yesterday in his speech to Congress last night. The tone was marginally less objectionable than his “grab pussy” speech, but as SAIS colleague Eliot Cohen put it:

POTUS clunky speech seemingly judged a success because he did not sound like an unhinged, belligerent maniac. .

Trump repeated virtually all of his worst domestic campaign promises: repeal Obamacare without specifying what should replace it, counter supposedly rising crime by blocking immigrants who don’t commit more crimes than natural born Americans, build an unneeded wall on parts of the border already difficult to cross, drop government regulations that protect Americans from ineffective or unsafe pharmaceuticals, build pipelines that don’t increase American energy security even though the economics no longer justify it….

The only domestic proposition I agreed with is his $1 trillion for infrastructure, but that’s pretty much what Obama wanted to do too. The Republicans in Congress wouldn’t let him.

The only real adjustments were a pledge of support to NATO (but not the European Union, which is arguably just as important to US interests) and a denunciation of hate crimes, which he should have made weeks ago. China went almost unmentioned, he skipped North Korea’s nuclear weapons and Russian interference in the American election, and forgot about climate change entirely. He offered no indication of how he is going to defeat ISIS.

The moment that struck me as most inappropriate was the exploitation of Ryan Owens’ widow (her husband was killed in a botched raid in Yemen that Trump personally approved), who was present in the gallery. I gather veterans shared my reaction:

But the Congress provided the desired long and loud applause.

The public display of a tearful grieving widow for political purposes grates the wrong way with me, but obviously I’m not with the program. Trump thought McCain wasn’t a hero because he was captured. By what logic does Trump think Owens is a hero because he is dead? Wouldn’t logic suggest that Trump prefers fighting men not only uncaptured but also alive?

The press is celebrating the more moderate tone of the speech, exemplified best in Trump’s refraining from criticizing the media. Some people are easy to please.

Throughout the speech, Trump was glued to his Teleprompter. No doubt within 48 hours he’ll be back to saying the things he really means in the acerbic tones that come naturally to his pouting mouth and short fingers.

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Run your own affairs

Zana Popovska-Bozinovska of the website MKD.mk asked questions. I answered:

Q: What is your position about Platform of Albanian political parties, does it exceed The Ohrid Framework agreement?

A: Yes, as I read it, it exceeds the Ohrid Framework agreement, but there is nothing wrong with that. Ohrid is more than ten years old. Going beyond it is well within the realm of political reason. The Albanian parties may not get all they are asking for, but they are entitled to ask.

That said, I am puzzled by some things in the Platform, in particular on the use of Albanian at all levels in the government. This seems to me impractical at present, but I’ll leave that to the citizens of Macedonia to decide.

Q: Why has nobody from international community reacted, since USA and EU were guarantor and signatories of the Agreement?

A: I think the Americans and Europeans are trying to get Macedonia’s citizens and politicians to take care of their own business. The notion that anyone in Brussels or Washington should dictate where Albanian is spoken in Macedonia is ridiculous.

Q: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was some kind of mentor, alongside Kosovo President Hashim Thaci. Is this interfering in the internal matters of Macedonia, as many critics in the country used to say it?

A: There is nothing wrong with a unified platform. But I understand why some Macedonians have reacted negatively to the external role. I also think Prime Minister Rama and President Thaci have problems of their own to deal with.

But at the same time you can expect other countries to have interests that they will pursue, including by pushing for unification of their co-nationals inside a neighboring country. We see Serbia doing the same kind of thing in Kosovo. Those who don’t want it there should think twice before doing it somewhere else.

Q: Situation in the country is tense after failure of Mr.Nikola Gruevski to form new Government. Now there is some progress in negotiations between DUI and SDSM and probably they will form the new Government. But VMRO-DPMNE doesn’t accept this combination. Is there any danger for ethnic tensions, return of nationalism, or maybe unrests?

A: Yes, there are risks of nationalist revival and unrest, which could entail also ethnic tensions. But the question of who governs should be decided by who has a majority in parliament, not in the streets. VMRO-DPMNE held power for a long time and will be an excellent counterbalance in opposition to SDSM if the latter is able to form a government.

Q: Generally, what is wrong with the country, it seems that nothing functions, there are always criticisms that reforms are blocked, no implementation, no progress toward EU and NATO. What is your opinion?

A: Democracy is not an easy system to make function well. Macedonia is still in transition and lacks experience in dealing with the contestation that is a part of any democratic system. On top of that, you’ve got ethnic/language differences that make governance particularly difficult. I’d like to see reform and progress towards the EU and NATO, but I’m not surprised it is difficult.

Q: Even if four political parties agreed with forming of Special Public Prosecutor office, according Przino Agreement, now VMRO-DPMNE denies prolonging of its mandate. There are always burdens in its functioning and investigations about wire-tapping scandal. What is your comment on it, should SPP continue its work after actual mandate, even judiciary has very selective, even negative approach regarding SPP?

A: I think the Special Public Prosecutor is necessary at this juncture and I would like to see the mandate extended. But that is up to the Macedonian parliament, not me or any other international.

Q: What do you think about role of Russia in the Balkans, including Macedonia, since last public opinion indicated that Russia is on the second place as desirable strategic partner, after EU, but in front of US. Is it some wider trend or result of delayed NATO membership?

A: The delay in NATO membership is an important factor, one that I enormously regret. All Macedonia’s problems would be more manageable if the country were firmly ensconced inside the Alliance. But there are of course broader trends, including the election of an ethnic nationalist as President in the US and Moscow’s aggressive efforts to undermine America and its friends in the Balkans (as well as elsewhere).

However, Russia in my view is declining regional power with little to offer anyone in the Balkans other than a model of how not to run a country. I have no doubt but that NATO and EU membership are the better choice for Macedonia, but it is Macedonia’s citizens who have to make that choice. The US and EU did not do all they’ve done in the Balkans so that people in Washington and Brussels could make decisions for people in Skopje. Sovereignty and independence mean you run your own affairs, even if you don’t always run them well.

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