Tag: Latin America

Heresies

I’ve been hesitating to write about Donald Trump’s catastrophic 30% budget cut to the State Department and USAID, because I find myself out of tune with most of my deserving Foreign Service colleagues. Not about the size of the cut: it’s ridiculous. Anything even close to 30% in a single year would render most organizations non-functional, because of their fixed costs. The foreign policy establishment is no different: it has rents to pay, buildings to heat, computers to maintain, and payroll to meet that prevent anything like a 30% cut.

My heresies start with Rex Tillerson’s hesitancy to appoint his subordinates until he has had a look at which jobs he wants to keep and which he wants to abolish. No one intent on cutting positions would want to fill them first. And unlike most commentators, I know that professional Foreign Service and Civil Service officers have stepped up as “actings” to fill the shoes of the missing Trump political appointees, who aren’t likely to be as capable (or as much in tune with my preferences). Of course they should in principle have political guidance, but in its absence they will do what I think is likely best: continue doing what they did before January 20.

Nor do I necessarily disagree with the notion that AID might be folded into State. AID was conceived, and continues to regard itself, as a poverty-reduction organization committed to economic development. But it no longer has anywhere near the resources required to make even a minor dent in global poverty. Nor is it clear that it knows any better how to create jobs abroad than the US government does at home. In any event, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the regional development banks have much greater capacity to reduce poverty than AID, as does the US Millennium Challenge Corporation.

What we need AID money for in the early part of the 21st century is something else. Though I am a diehard Obamista, Mitt Romney had most of it right in a speech on AID during the 2012 campaign: we should be using its resources to help our friends abroad build the institutions required for free enterprise, including protection of property rights and rule of law. What the US needs in abroad is socially and environmentally sensitive capitalist development, including strong civil society organizations that will insist on inclusivity, transparency and accountability. In a word: building states and their civil society counterparts.

AID has the amounts of money that could make a real difference in state- and society-building. But in order to be effective in fraught political environments, it would have to operate under close foreign policy supervision. Thus I’d be happy to see AID–or much of it–folded into the State Department, which is capable of giving the kind of politically sensitive guidance that is difficult when the organizations are separate.

This won’t really happen, any more than the 30% cut. AID’s humanitarian and health programs have strong advocates in Congress, who will keep them intact and separate from State. But much of the rest of AID–in particular the money for its regional economic development activities as well as its “transition” and democratization portfolios–should be given over to state- and society-building under State Department supervision, in particular in the war-torn and fragile states of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.

Look at Latin America and East Asia: with notable exceptions like Venezuela and Thailand, these regions are moving pretty decisively in the democratic, middle income direction, with ups and downs. Brazil is in a trough at the moment, but for those of us who served there 30 years ago, it is vastly improved, both in political and economic terms. The Asia Pacific has developed relatively prosperous, at least semi-democratic states: South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia (with reservations), Philippines (even if I don’t like Duterte). Their relatively peaceful evolution is one of the unsung blessings of our time. It is no accident that these are for the most part not the areas of the world generating terrorist threats to the US.

States are a key element of this evolution, as is regional cooperation among them. Washington, stuck in the poverty reduction rut, has not had the funds needed to back either, though it sometimes does well supporting civil society in fragile states, all too often however as an alternative to government. Yes, fold a large part of AID into State, but change the goals it seeks to be commensurate with US interests and the volume of its resources: build viable states that can elaborate and enforce the norms required for modern economies, support cooperation on a regional basis among those viable states, and make sure that civil society has the resources to monitor, evaluate, and advocate for political and economic reform.

Tags : , , ,

Trump is losing, but still making chaos

@MaxBoot tweeted last night:

Xi forces affirmation of “One China.” Mexico won’t pay for wall. 9th Circuit stops EO. Flynn/Conway scandals. Is Trump tired of winning yet?

140 characters permitting, he might have added that

  • Trump is delaying the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
  • The administration is forgetting Secretary of State Tillerson’s pledge to prevent Chinese access to the islands it has fortified in the South China Sea.
  • The wall is now projected to cost more than twice candidate Trump’s projection.
  • The President has expressed displeasure that Kellyanne Conway has been “counseled” for violating ethnics regulations.
  • Congressional Republicans are questioning whether National Security Adviser Flynn can remain in place, and the 9th Circuit decision makes it unlikely that the Administration will win an appeal.
  • Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has suggested that criticism of judges, which the President has indulged in repeatedly, is demoralizing and disheartening to the judiciary.

From my Schadenfreude perspective, these are all positive developments. To stimie Trump, or at least try to hold him and his minions accountable, is to make the world better place.

But let’s not kid ourselves. the Trumpistas have already had a devastating impact on American prestige and influence abroad. Trump’s doubts about the NATO Alliance have shaken European confidence. He won’t even be able to visit the UK, where giant crowds would protest his appearance. His immigration ban has demoralized allies in the Arab world, especially Iraq, and boosted extremist recruiting. His bromance with Putin has encouraged the Russians to continue their interventions in Syria and eastern Ukraine. His hostility towards Iran has encouraged its worst impulses, including additional missile tests after being put “on notice.”

While I have good friends who think Barack Obama was a frighteningly weak foreign policy president, his retrenching America is looking coherent and even visionary by comparison. In a few short weeks, Trump has weakened America, not strengthened it.

The ramifications are many. I had a note this morning from the Balkans that read in part:

I have to say that Trumpizm effects the rest of the world in which provinces like Balkans can not understand who is who and what is real American politics and interest towards them!

The same thing might be said in eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific and even in Latin America. At the current rate, it will be true in the Arctic and Antarctica before long. All American presidential transitions are unsettling, but this one is an order of magnitude more chaos-producing than most. It has brought people to power in the White House who simply do not adhere to the well-established lines of American foreign policy, which have served pretty well since 1945. When you need to be reading an obsure Italian Fascist writer to understand the intellectual antecedents of the chief strategist to the President, you know something is wrong.

I’m not immune to radicalism. I indulged in it during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. There are things today that merit hard opposition in my estimation, including Trump’s appointment of cabinet members who oppose the missions of the agencies they are supposed to lead and his appointment of a documented and committed racist as Attorney General. But Trump’s radicalism appears to have little more than his own impulsive and erratic whims as its basis, combined with a few repugnant right-wing shibboleths about race, public education, the environment, and energy production.

The bully is already backing down on some of his worst impulses, but that does nothing to give the world an America that it can understand and rely on. Trump likes unpredictability. Friends and adversaries alike do not.

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

It’s the oil

On Monday, Georgetown University’s Centers for Contemporary Arab Studies and Latin American Studies hosted an event “Oil, Authoritarianism, and Populism” to compare governance in the Middle East and Latin America after the discovery of oil. The discussion featured Daniel Neep, author of Occupying Syria under the French Mandate: Space, Insurgency and State Formation, Georgetown Associate Professor Joseph Sassoon (author of Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime), and Angelo Rivero Santos, adjunct professor and director of Venezuela Programming at the McDonough School of Business.

Neep described the study of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as idiographic, isolated in part due to the complexity and variety in the region itself. At the end of the Cold War, the field of international relations started to shift and scholars increasingly focused on democratization. By the 2000s, the conversations switched to ways authoritarianism evolves and roots itself in the context of state and society. Much of this research is concerned with individual nations or bilateral comparisons, with little attention paid to international trends. Neep argued that there is much to learn from international interregional comparison. Comparisons between Latin America and the Middle East are particularly interesting. Populist authoritarianism is more successful in the Arab world, but Neep pointed out that political society’s conception of authoritarianism started in Latin America. He highlighted state-led industrialization, class uprisings, and land reform as key elements in comparisons of pre-2005 Syria, Egypt under Nasser, and South American countries. It is essential that scholars look at similar experiences across the globe to fully understand long term trajectories.

Additionally, Neep highlighted the error in thinking of authoritarian and democratic systems as diametrically opposed, or even as different“species.” He rejected the tendency to consider authoritarian regimes as a stage before the development of a democratic system. A more accurate way of thinking frames authoritarianism as a particular type of state. He went on to cite the current political crisis in the US as an example of crossover, a democratic regime with (potential?) authoritarian characteristics.

Sassoon identified fundamental elements of Middle Eastern regimes congruent with Latin American history such as widespread use of torture, a strong security apparatus, and a strong military. Yet, despite its military dictatorships, Latin America managed to move past authoritarian structures. Sassoon proposed that oil might be the factor retarding democratic progress in the MENA region, especially considering the failure of the 2011 uprisings in the region. Sassoon points out that Iraq and Egypt were more developed than Chile in the 1960’s, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth today. Aspirations for reform suffered from a lack of proper opposition and control of the ruling party.

Latin America possessed requisite structures to establishing a strong opposition entrenched in civil society that are not present in the Middle East. Sassoon warned that whether nations are producers or intermediaries of oil, there is too much reliance on the resource. This is a fundamental issue. No country has figured out how to divert oil wealth into something more productive. Sassoon used Libya as an example of this challenge; when Gadhafi took power Libya was a rich country, with no border disputes and no enemies in the world. Forty years later it is a failed state.

Santos identified Venezuela as the best country in Latin America to compare with the Middle East because of its position as the second biggest oil producer in the Western hemisphere after the US. The history of democracy in Venezuela is complicated, with over 25 constitutions since it’s independence in 1810. Equally complex is its relationship with oil: it is both a curse and a blessing. Oil propelled Venezuela to relevancy in the world stage through membership in OPEC and the Jose Accords, and triggered social and political transformations at home. But the country is a classic example of “Dutch Disease,” where the discovery of oil shifted the formerly diverse agricultural economy to one dependent on a single resource.

Venezuela differs from many countries in the MENA region because the government always believed that the oil belonged to the people, and worked to create social contracts that addressed the role of oil in society and how to distribute resource wealth. However, you cannot distribute wealth that you do not have, and Santos remarked that low oil prices cause problems such as the current unrest.

Tags : , ,

Big trouble brewing

President-elect Trump’s cabinet appointments were not moderates from the first. With the exception of Defense and Homeland Security, he has appointed people who oppose the missions of the departments they have been named to lead. Rick Perry famously couldn’t even remember that Energy was one of the departments he said as a candidate he wanted to abolish. Ryan Zinke, named to Interior, opposes the conservation that department is entrusted with.

On domestic issues, we can anticipate that Congress will present a roadblock to some of the more outrageous proposals from the new administration. Abolishing Obamacare without providing an alternative isn’t going to happen, for precisely the reason Republicans opposed it in the first place: there are a lot of people enjoying its benefits. Depriving 20 million people of health insurance is not a winning political maneuver. The Energy Department isn’t going away, if only because it makes our nuclear weapons and manages nuclear waste. I’ll bet the national parks will still be the national parks four years from now, even if they will be open to more commercial activity than today.

On foreign policy, there are fewer constraints. The beneficiaries are not so well defined and presidential powers are dominant. Trump shook the One China policy with a single phone call, precipitating bellicose rhetoric from Beijing about the South China Sea. He has named as ambassador to Israel an advocate of Jewish settlements on the West Bank who opposes the two-state solution and looks forward to moving the embassy to Jerusalem. His bromance with Putin is already shaking allied confidence in NATO. Trump is a master at upsetting apple carts with small gestures.

His nominee for Secretary of State, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, is not at first sight the same type. By all reports, he has been a capable, maybe even an outstanding, manager of a gigantic energy company, which under his guidance even accepted that global warming is real and caused in part by human activity. But he too has been willing to defy expectations and do business not only with Russian President Putin but also a non-sovereign state like Iraqi Kurdistan as well as with petty dictators in weak states who need Exxon to exploit their resources so they can steal the revenue and keep themselves in power. It is hard to picture Tillerson supporting democratic reforms after a career of ignoring regime abuses, as Rachel Maddow ably made clear last night in an interview with Steve Coll:

Perhaps the most important foreign policy nomination has not yet been made: the US Trade Representative is presumably the person who will need to fulfill Trump’s campaign promises by renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, and ending the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). If he follows through, these moves will make Europe, Asia and Latin America doubt America’s longstanding commitment to free trade and investment, present the Chinese and Russians with opportunities to fill giant gaps, and undermine the World Trade Organization.

That however is not my biggest concern. Trump is an ethnic nationalist with an extreme ethnic nationalist, Steve Bannon, as his chief strategist. They will be sympathetic to ethnic nationalist reasoning, which is what Russian President Putin is offering as an explanation for his aggression in Crimea, Donbas, Transnistria, South Ossetia, and  Abkhazia. “Just trying to protect ethnic Russians,” Putin says. How many of these places will Trump be willing to concede to Russia in order to consummate his bromance with Putin? The Trump administration may also be more sympathetic than Obama has been to Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence ambitions, setting off a series of partitions in the Middle East (Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, even Turkey and Iran are potential candidates).

Four years is a long time. I don’t think it will be more than a month before some of Trump’s international moves brew the United States big trouble.

Tags : , , , , , ,

Rare success

I’m no expert on Colombia, but you don’t have to be one to welcome the ceasefire negotiated with Cuban mediation between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC) after 52 years of rebellion. The Economist gives an excellent overview of the accomplishment and the problems that lie ahead.

I would just signal the capital importance of preventing FARC cadres from going the way of rebels in El Salvador and Guatemala. In the aftermath of their civil wars, which ended in the 1990s, criminality has remained a major problem and even grown dramatically in El Salvador. Colombia has had significant success against its once rampaging drug cartels, but demobilization of the guerrillas will increase the challenge. Thousands of unemployed youth with few talents other than avoiding the authorities and handling a gun constitute a serious problem. Nor will their commanders miss an opportunity to organize protection and smuggling rackets, especially if they don’t do well in the post-war political competition.

Colombia has a neighbor to the east, Venezuela, already in desperate straits. Its left-wing Chavistas have wrecked the country’s economy, despite sitting on what are arguably some of the world’s largest, albeit low quality, oil reserves. They have also made a hash of the government’s institutions, which include a parliament now controlled by the opposition. The power struggle there and its consequences may well boil over to Colombia as Venezuelans flee economic implosion, straining Bogotá’s capacities just as it embarks on the challenge of implementing a complicated and for some people not very palatable peace deal.

A slowdown in Colombia’s economic growth will likely worsen in the aftermath of Brexit as the world slips into recession. The government will have trouble anteing up all the resources needed to implement the peace deal, which includes commitments to rural development among other things. The US has spent about $8 billion on Plan Colombia, one of Washington’s more comprehensive efforts to strengthen a fragile state and help it block both drug cartels and leftist guerrillas from damaging US national security. While criticized on human rights grounds and for its efforts at drug eradication, the Plan appears to have contributed a good deal to Colombia’s current success.

Sustainment will not be automatic. A special tribunal and disarmament, as The Economist reports, will be particularly important to the Colombian public. Jobs and political inclusion will be important to the guerrillas. Colombia is the third most populous Latin American country, with 50 million people (only Brazil and Mexico are larger). It needs to make at least as much success of its post-war transition as it has already made of its internal wars. Success in negotiating the end of a rebellion is rare, but success in managing the post-war process is even rarer.

 

Tags :

Peace Picks May 2-6

  1. 2016 Global Strategy Forum | Monday, May 2nd | 8:30-5:30 | Please join the Atlantic Council’s Strategy Initiative, in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, for its flagship annual conference, the Global Strategy Forum. This year’s theme is “America’s Role in the World,” and will feature three panels—Strategic Foresight, Strategic Challenges and Opportunities, and Strategic Solutions—a debate on America’s role in the world, and a keynote address by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work on the Third Offset and how artists can help with it. On May 3, we will also hold Global Strategist Roundtables, by invitation only. If you are interested, please contact AWard@atlanticcouncil.org.The full agenda may be found here.
  1. Political Crisis and Democracy in Brazil | Monday, May 2nd | 12:30-2:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Georgetown University, in partnership with the Brazilian Club, Latin American Policy Association, Center for Latin American Studies and the Latin American Initiative invite you to attend a panel discussion on Brazil’s political crisis with Professor Monica Arruda de Almeida, Center for Latin American Studies, Professor Bryan McCann, Department of History, and Mr. Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute, Wilson Center. Professor Elcior Santana, Center for Latin American Studies, will moderate.
  1. Advancing Women in MENA: Should We Keep Trying? | Wednesday, May 4th | 2:00-4:00 | U.S. Institute of Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Since its adoption in 2000, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security has inspired more than 50 member states to adopt National Action Plans to implement its provisions. Iraq in 2014 became the first country in the Middle East to adopt such a plan. Palestine approved its NAP in 2015. But insufficient public awareness and political buy-in and a shortage of targeted resources have stalled efforts elsewhere in the region and continue to hamper implementation even where advocates have succeeded in promoting the adoption of a plan. USIP is preparing to publish a Special Report on these issues, led by the Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Center Director Paula Rayman will be among speakers at that May 4 discussion addressing the connecting between implementation of UNSCR 1325 and long-term national security, with a special focus on Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The experts also will explore the importance of including men in the development of national action plans and creating safe spaces for productive conversations to prepare for peace. Dr. Linda Bishai, Director of North Africa Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace, will offer opening remarks. Martin Meehan, President, University of Massachusetts, and Dr. Paula Rayman, Director, Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, will make other remarks. Panelists include Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, Co-Founder and Executive Director, International Civil Society Network, and Ambassador Steve Steiner, Gender Advisor, U.S. Institute of Peace. Kathleen Kuehnast, Senior Gender Advisor, U.S. Institute of Peace, will moderate.
  1. Power and Change in Iran: Dynamics of Contention and Conciliation | Thursday, May 5th | 9:30-10:30 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Drawing from their contributions to the recently published book, Power and Change in Iran: Dynamics of Contention and Conciliation, (co-edited by Daniel Brumberg and Farideh Farhi), Daniel Brumberg and Shadi Mokhtari will shed light on political and social struggles that are shaping Iran’s domestic politics and its evolving engagement in the Middle East and wider global arena. Their presentations will highlight insights from the scholars who contributed to this volume, including Farideh Farhi, Kevan Harris, Payam Mohseni, Shervin Malekzadeh, Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Koroush Rahimkhani, Yasmin Alem, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, Mehrangiz Kar, and Azadeh Pourzand.
  1. Third Annual Security Forum: American and Japanese Interests and the Future of the Alliance | Friday, May 6th | 9:00-5:00 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Sasakawa USA is pleased to welcome distinguished guests including Japanese Minister Shigeru Ishiba, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Scott Swift, Michael Chertoff, Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador Ryozo Kato, Ambassador Richard Armitage, former Japanese Minister of Defense Satoshi Morimoto, Michèle Flournoy, and many others, for this high-level discussion. Panel topics include Japan’s global security role, a new era in U.S.-Japan maritime cooperation, a view from Congress of U.S.-Japan relations, recommendations for the alliance through 2030, cyber security challenges, and the effect that the U.S. elections may have on the alliance. Panel topics may be found here.
  1. National Security Challenges in Asia for the Next U.S. President | Friday, May 6th | 11:00-12:30 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | America’s next president will inherit a multitude of national security challenges in Asia. These include instability and terrorism, nuclear proliferation, territorial disputes, and threats to critical sea lanes, among others. R. Nicholas Burns, one of America’s most accomplished diplomats, will discuss what he views as the major concerns in Asia for the United States, and offer guidance as to how the next U.S. president can best tackle them. He will give special attention to how, and to what extent, Washington can cooperate with its friends in Asia, such as India, to help manage and address these challenges confronting the broader region.
  1. Peace After Paris: Addressing Climate, Conflict, and Development | Friday, May 6th | 10:00-11:30 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | 2015 was a milestone year for international commitments on climate change, sustainable development, and peacebuilding. Where are the opportunities at the intersection of these processes to address climate security risks and build peace? What needs to happen in the next five years for these frameworks to achieve their long-term goals? Nick Mabey, founder and Chief Executive of E3G, will provide his analysis of these processes with commentary by Ken Conca, author of An Unfinished Foundation: The United Nations and Global Environmental Governance, and Sherri Goodman, former deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security and current Wilson Center public policy fellow.
Tags : , , , ,
Tweet