U.S. military personnel boarding KC-130J Super Hercules in order to deploy to West Africa (Photo: Department of Defense)
U.S. military personnel boarding KC-130J Super Hercules in order to deploy to West Africa (Photo: Department of Defense)

By Erik Ruiz

In a video conference on Tuesday, October 14, with leaders from 21 countries, President Obama stressed that the international community was not doing enough to combat the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

“As I’ve said before, and I’m going to keep on repeating until we start seeing more progress, the world as a whole is not doing enough…. There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up.” – President Obama

That same day, the World Health Organization warned that we could start seeing as many as 10,000 new cases of Ebola per month. Although WHO’s official tally puts the death toll at 4,447 out of 8,914 reported cases, Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of WHO, suggested that there may be more deaths that have not been officially recorded.  

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Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France (Reuters/Michel Euler)
Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France, September 16, 2014 (Reuters/Michel Euler)

By Harry C. Blaney III

Dateline London

President Obama’s speech to the American people on Wednesday, September 10th finally outlined for the American people, as he did with Congressional leaders on Tuesday, the key elements in the complex and difficult task of “degrading and destroying” ISIS. Much is at stake, not least is the future of the Islamic world, now at the point of a sectarian conflict between Sunni and the Shiite populations, as well as the Kurds. The Middle East is undergoing not only a large scale conflict, but also a fundamental struggle for the future of the entire Middle East and beyond. Obama is right that it is now self-evident that it is America who will lead, but at the same time work with others in this struggle, not least the nations and people of the region itself.

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Libya Killings: The Exploitation of Tragedy and Our Corrosive Politics

As a former diplomat I am appalled not just by the act of mindless violence that resulted in the death of four professional American diplomats, but also by the use of this sad event by the Republican candidate for president and his team to exploit it for partisan advantage. This, in my view, is truly unforgivable.

There are enough dangers and complexity in the various areas of trouble in the world without adding to them and saying silly things or to exacerbate hatreds and anger which seems sometimes to be the aim of Gov. Romney and his crew. America’s aim is to make peace and bring democracy and prosperity to the Middle East region and beyond. This fact seems of little worth to the Republicans if there is some gain in risking this goal to gain power.

The Middle East has been a kind of tinder box for as long as I can remember and its politics and national and ethnic makeup call for very wise and judicious handling which was the forte of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his many colleagues in the region. This is also a critical time in Middle East transition after the Arab Spring. It is time for both parties to continue the tradition of a subtle, balanced, and wise unified approach as taken by Reagan, the first Bush, Carter, Clinton, even the second Bush for some of his time (despite his indifference to its dangers), and now Obama. The simple fact is that Obama has been stronger and more effective against terrorism than the Bush people even came close to. He has shown strength in American determinism but also judiciousness in approach which has gain America much respect.     

Unfortunately, I agree with Senator Kerry’s judgment about Romney when he said, “Frankly I don’t think he knows what he is talking about.” 

At a time when U.S. Embassies are under attack, there is more need for voices of sanity, calm, and reconciliation. Not for stirring up partisan, ethnic, or religious animosities and least of all, in a time of turmoil and sadness of blatantly accusing the president (who has steadfastly fought terrorism successfully and also reached out to the vast majority of peaceful Muslims), of “sympathizing” with terrorists.

We do need a rational and thoughtful debate on American foreign policy but it is best done on the basis of facts, careful study, and thoughtful analysis; rather than the degrading and wrongheaded statements of someone who clearly is out of his depth but just does not know it. 

We welcome your comments!

Tampa and Charlotte Conventions: Clashing Voices on Foreign Policy

Below you will find our take on the Republican Convention in Tampa which will be followed by our separate post commentary on the Democratic Convention in Charlotte.

TAMPA: Republicans at their Worst and Most Cunning 

There were many disturbing elements coming out of the Republican Convention in Florida apart from offensive acts to both African-Americans and Hispanics, or Clint Eastwood’s babbling dementia and smutty gross remarks, or Paul Ryan’s miss- characterization of Obama’s programs and acts. They all seemed so typical of a certain unfortunate crudity of people who had no wise, wit, nor sympathy for others that were not like them or perhaps anyone.  The words I thought of were, “selfishness,” “mindless,” and “misleading;” the last being a nice word for lies. (See Factcheck for the footnotes re lies.)  How sad.

Romney’s speech was appalling in terms of national security and foreign policy, filled with empty words without substance.  He rarely spoke about Iraq or Afghanistan at all where our troops have made so many sacrifices. He set no directions and he designed not to share his real specific thoughts with those who must vote in November for their president.  He had no clear statement on his Iran policy other than an indication of a yet unneeded military option.

The New York Times had it right in their editorial on August 31st which looked at the foreign and security policy issues that it said were not fully addressed by Romney or Paul Ryan.  Here a few selected quotes:

“Republicans have offered precious little of substance but a lot of bromides (“A free world is a more peaceful world!”) meant to convey profundity and take passive-aggressive digs at President Obama. But no subjects have received less attention, or been treated with less honesty, than foreign affairs and national security — and Mr. Romney’s banal speech was no exception.”

“…..the Republicans have no purchase on foreign and security policy. In a television interview on Wednesday, Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, could not name an area in which Mr. Obama had failed on foreign policy.”

 “……Mitt Romney has tried to sound tough, but it’s hard to see how he would act differently from Mr. Obama except in ways that are scary — like attacking Iran, or overspending on defense in ways that would not provide extra safety but would hurt the economy.”

“….Ms. Rice said the United States has lost its “exceptionalism,” but she never gave the slightest clue what she meant by that — a return to President Bush’s policy of preventive and unnecessary war?

“She and Mr. McCain both invoked the idea of “peace through strength,” but one of the few concrete proposals Mr. Romney has made — spending 4 percent of G.D.P. on defense — would weaken the economy severely. Mr. McCain was not telling the truth when he said Mr. Obama wants to cut another $500 billion from military spending. That amount was imposed by the Republicans as part of the extortion they demanded to raise the debt ceiling.

“Ms. Rice said American allies need to know where the United States stands and that alliances are vitally important. But the truth is that Mr. Obama has repaired those alliances and restored allies’ confidence in America’s position after Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice spent years tearing them apart and ruining America’s reputation in the world.

The one alliance on which there is real debate between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama is with Israel. But it is not, as Mr. Romney and his supporters want Americans to believe, about whether Mr. Obama is a supporter of Israel. Every modern president has been, including Mr. Obama. Apart from outsourcing his policy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements, it’s not clear what Mr. Romney would do differently.”

That was as good a summary as one can find of the emptiness of Romney’s foreign policy and the Republican lack of serious thought.

On some of the specifics of the GOP foreign policy positions: 

On the economic sphere —key to American long-term security – the Republican platform calls for the establishment of a Gold standard commission to examine going back to a gold standard for our currency. It is hard to imagine a more stupid and dangerous policy – putting our entire economy into the hands of a metal of no set worth and limited supply, open to manipulation and control largely by foreign mine owners – it would cause an immediate financial crisis and then a depression along with instability in our cooperation with other nations and in international trade. I will not bother our readers with the other economic policies which mirror the failed austerity policies in the EU/EURO Zone.   

Law of the Sea: The same platform says America should not ratify and indeed not be a part of the Law of the Sea Treaty.  Yet almost every administration after Reagan, including that of George W. Bush, has agreed to its ratification, but the right-wing of the Senate Republicans have opposed it. The US Navy and the Chiefs of Staff support the treaty as now does industry.  Keeping out of the treaty system puts our rights off free passage and access to seabed minerals in peril. Again, another example of Romney’s foolishness in the world abroad and I do not just mean insulting our UK friends on his trip abroad this August.

Reckless Belligerency: There is a carelessness and willingness to enter into conflicts and zones of deep instability, complexity, and danger that Romney and his neo-con advisors have indicated in position papers, statements, and in the GOP platform that boggles the mind. While making reckless statements that only infuriate countries with whom we have a wide range of interests (and even areas of cooperation), there is little indication of any deeper understanding of the interconnecting of issues and interests or of real as against least likely or imagined risks.  

Climate Change and Global Environmental Dangers: This is a prime example of ignoring serious dangers and clear catastrophic risks.  Romney, running mate Paul Ryan, and the GOP Platform and other GOP leaders deny the risks of global warming, the overwhelming scientific evidence, and above all are pushing for energy policies which will make the problem worse. They flatly refuse to deal with this true risk to global security in the face of major hurricanes, droughts, and coastal ocean levels rising.  

These are but a few examples of a national security and foreign policy platform and mindset that shows ignorance, recklessness, and myopia that spells major danger to American leadership abroad.  Just recently, for example, a Pew poll showed a vast majority of Indians (and in other polls, many other countries) with a high regard for America and Obama…..which would evaporate with a Romney presidency. Leadership starts through wise policies and cautious but clear actions.

Our next blog will look at the Democrat Convention and Platform and speeches.

We welcome your comments!

The Conundrum of Iran: Discussion of the “Military Options”

On June 7th, the Arms Control Association held its final meeting in a series about American policy towards Iran to discuss the military option regarding Iran. In some ways it was the best of the series.

The best speaker was Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who delivered the keynote lecture and is one of our most distinguished diplomats and certainly one of the smartest and wisest Foreign Service Officers of our time. I saw him in action in many different jobs including his service as the Ambassador to Moscow and his many assignments to the Department of State.

His talk should be the model of any who aspires to be the best in the Foreign Service – it was a model of clarity, precision, sharp analysis and setting forth of pros and cons of what can only be described as one of the most difficult national security decisions facing the U.S.  Any president would do well to have Pickering advise any major foreign policy act and would benefit from his perspective. Continue reading

Transcript of Chairman of the JCS Adm. Mike Mullen’s Speech at the Wilson Center

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen gave the inaugural lecture for the Wilson Center’s Lee Hamilton Lecture Series on Civil Defense and Democracy on May 25. In his wide-ranging address, Adm. Mullen presented some of his observations and comments on the current and future challenges to the United States.  Adm. Mullen predicts that as we move into the 21st century we will see a reduction of U.S. military presence in the Middle East, a “diffusion of power” based on shifting economic power and demographic trends, and the rise of “a certain pragmatism about the limitations of military force.”  As the federal deficit will require challenging trade offs particularly for the military, Adm. Mullen stressed the importance of  prioritization in order to responsibly maintain an effective and flexible military force that, along with smart decisions in diplomacy and development, will contribute to national security.

At the end of his speech, Adm. Mullen fielded an array of questions from the audience spanning topics such as the disclosure of intelligence capabilities and the Navy SEALs, the Arab Spring, the war in Afghanistan, the domestic budget discussion, and the role of diplomacy, development and defense in Africa.  Take a look, and, as always, we welcome your comments!


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At last, U.S.-Cuban Relations Begin to Improve

The year 2010 had registered virtually no improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations. There had been rumors and suggestions for some time that the Obama administration might ease restrictions on, at least, academic and so-called “people-to-people” travel to Cuba. Delays were first attributed to the need to  wait until after the November elections – and then, given the disappointing outcome of the elections, there was concern that the administration might not act at all and that 2011 would be as disappointing as 2010.

But then, on the afternoon of January 14, 2011, came the surprise announcement from the White House that restrictions on certain kinds of travel would indeed be eased, that flights to Cuba could go out of additional airfields, not just out of Miami, and that Americans could now send limited remittances to Cuban citizens, provided the latter were not senior members of the Cuban government or Communist Party. Continue reading