Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Policy’

The current issue of Foreign Policy magazine has a special report titled “The Axis of Upheaval,” with in depth articles on the three countries that could be the source of some of the world’s biggest problems.

I was surprised by their selections, since none of them were obvious choices:

  • New York Times East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman says Somalia is the most dangerous place on Earth.
  • Economist Moscow bureau chief Arkady Ostrovsky writes about Vladimir Putin and the risks of Russia in these tough economic times.
  • Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Quinones writes about the escalating drug war in Mexico.
  • All of them are must reads.



    Memo to U.S. military and intelligence agencies: Make sure you block or filter satellite images on Google Earth of your Predator drones when they’re sitting around on a runway in Pakistan.

    Hanna Ingber Win noticed an interesting development and wrote it up for Huffington Post:

    The official press of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), requested an interview with President Obama, reports AHN.

    The Islamic News Agency’s U.N. representative, Khosro Shayesteh told CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk that they have requested the interview and are waiting for a response from Obama to begin a dialogue. “The Iranian request for an interview with Obama comes at an opportune time for U.S.-Iran relations since both President Obama and Iran’s President have offered to begin negotiations, which were stalled during the eight years of the Bush Administration, and because Obama gave his first official interview as President to Al Arabiya,” said Falk.

    You can’t argue with the logic behind Shayesteh’s comment given Obama and Ahmadinejad’s recent public statements. And in all fairness, Ahmadinejad has given interviews to foreign media, including CNN. This could be a very interesting first step in American-Iranian talks during Obama’s presidency.


    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has written President-elect Barack Obama a letter congratulating him for his election victory, and said he hoped the new president would “choose to honor the real interests of people and justice and equity over the insatiable appetites of the selfish minority.” Ahmadinejad also said that people want “fundamental change in the American government’s policies, both foreign and domestic.”

    This is an interesting development for several reasons. First, during the campaign Hillary Clinton and John McCain tried to hammer Obama over his willingness to talk to America’s adversaries without preconditions, Iran being one of the countries in question. Second, this is the first time since the Iranian revolution of 1979 that an Iranian president has congratulated an American president-elect.

    You can read an English translation of the full text of the letter here.

    This could be the beginning of an interesting new chapter in U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations.

    I recently finished reading “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis” by former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy. Before I go any further with this, I should note in the interest of full disclosure that Mike was a teacher of mine at USC, and that I transcribed several interviews and contributed some research for this book.

    It’s an excellent read, although the nuances of nuclear proliferation policy may be a bit complicated for a person unfamiliar with the issues surrounding America’s complicated relationship with North Korea. Mike does a good job documenting some of the behind-the-scenes power struggles within the Bush administration. There’s enough duplicity and backstabbing going on to rival any reality TV show, only that there are real world consequences as a result.

    The major characters in this book – secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, nonproliferation chief John Bolton, North Korea negotiator Christopher Hill, and others – come across as dedicated public servants regardless of their position on the ideological and diplomatic spectrum in handling the North Korea issue, even when they are at each others’ throats.

    Mike also does a good job at analyzing the M.O. of the North Koreans, parsing through the public and private statements of government officials as well as the official reports from the North Korean news agency to put developments and events into context, and how these comments often foretold of positive or negative developments in the U.S.-North Korea relationship. It’s easy and tempting to try and dismiss the North Koreans for their behavior, and wonder about how accurate the caricature of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Kim Jong Il really is (I’ve been guilty of that), but they certainly do not come across this way in the book.

    If there is such a thing as being able to figure out what makes North Korea and Dear Leader tick, Mike is probably pretty close to it. He once said to me words to the effect that Kim Jong Il was as rational as a person could be in an irrational environment. Some of the words and actions of the North Korean government do seem irrational, and even childish at times. Their nuclear test in October of 2006 was neither of these, but rather something akin to Glenn Close’s famous line in the movie Fatal Attraction: “I’m not gonna be ignored.”

    There are no bombshells in this book like George Tenet’s infamous slam dunk comment, but Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler reviewed Meltdown and has a far better understanding of the news value and significance of what Mike uncovered in the course of his reporting for this book.

    Regardless of who wins the election next week, the next president will have to figure out how to continue dealing with North Korea and make sure that the relationship does not deteriorate the way it did during the past eight years.

    John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden get calls from Bob Gates and Condoleezza Rice about the ongoing Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) being discussed with the Iraqi government because of their respective roles on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. Sarah Palin… not so much.

    According to the State Department, Palin is a governor with no relevant jurisdiction or oversight of the State Department or Department of Defense, but as this briefing shows, some people aren’t going to be able to help but interpret it as a snub of the Republican vice presidential candidate. From Friday’s daily State Department briefing:

    QUESTION: You called Senator Biden, you called McCain, you called —

    MR. MCCORMACK: Chairman Biden, I guess I should have said.

    QUESTION: Yeah. Did you also call Governor Palin?

    MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. She – if you hadn’t noticed, she’s a governor, not a senator or congressman.

    QUESTION: She’s a vice presidential candidate.

    MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

    QUESTION: She also has extensive foreign affairs experience. (Laughter.)

    MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I explained to you the reasoning behind the phone calls.

    QUESTION: Anything that has to do with Russia, you would have called her?

    Regardless of the substantive issue of whether or not a governor has jurisdiction of foreign policy, as vice presidential candidate, she or any other candidate – regardless of gender or political affiliation – are entitled to get a briefing or courtesy call on this subject so they can be informed as candidates. If she is entitled to receive classified intelligence briefings from the DNI, I see no reason why she shouldn’t be filled in on SOFA.

    If the daily campaign narrative weren’t dominated by silly stories to fight and win the daily spin war, this story would be getting a lot more attention.

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Asif Ali Zardari returned from China late Friday without a commitment for hard cash needed to shore up Pakistan’s crumbling economy, leaving him with the politically unpopular prospect of having to ask the International Monetary Fund for help.

    Pakistan was seeking the aid from China, an important ally, as it faces the possibility of defaulting on its current account payments. With the United States and other nations preoccupied with a financial crisis, and Saudi Arabia, another traditional ally, refusing to offer concessions on oil, China was seen as the last port of call before the I.M.F.

    Accepting a rescue package from the I.M.F. would be seen as a humiliating step for Mr. Zardari’s government, which took office earlier this year. An I.M.F.-backed plan would require the government to cut spending and raise taxes, among other measures, which could hurt the poor, officials said.

    The Bush administration is concerned that Pakistan’s economic meltdown will provide an opportunity for Islamic militants to capitalize on rising poverty and frustration.

    The Pakistanis have not been shy in exploiting the terrorist threat as way of trying to win financial support, a senior official at the I.M.F. said. But because of the dire global financial situation, and the reluctance of donor nations to provide money without strict economic reforms by Pakistan, the terrorist argument has not been fully persuasive, he said.

    “A selling point to us even has been, if the economy really collapses this is going to mean civil strife, and strikes, and put the war on terror in jeopardy,” said the official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “They are saying, ‘We are a strategic country, the world needs to come to our aid.’ ”

    People focus too much on the terrorist argument, which although serious, pales in comparison to the nuclear weapons issue. It may be politically unpopular to go to the IMF but Pakistan realistically has no good options at this point. Normally Washington would probably bail them out but given the domestic economic problems, they can’t do that now without stirring a huge domestic political argument on the eve of a presidential election that the incumbent party is on course to lose.

    If the Pakistani state collapses because of the economic situation, it will probably be the next president’s first foreign policy crisis. And at or near the top of that crisis will be what to do about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. They are under the control of the military, which is one of the most powerful political constituencies in the country. But if their paychecks stop coming in, my guess is all bets are off.

    All eyes in Washington and the political world will be on Meet the Press this Sunday morning, more so than usual.

    Colin Powell, former secretary of state, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, will be a guest on Meet The Press this Sunday, fueling increased speculation that he will finally make an endorsement in the 2008 race, with only a couple weeks until the election.

    Powell, despite being a Republican, has been neutral so far this cycle, fomenting rumors in certain political circles that he may endorse Sen. Barack Obama.

    ” It’s going to make a lot of news, and certainly be personally embarrassing for McCain,” a McCain official said to Politico’s Mike Allen, on a possible Powell endorsement of Obama. “It comes at a time when we need momentum, and it would create momentum against us.”

    Tom DeFrank and Howard Fineman talked to several anonymous Powell sources. DeFrank’s sources were much more assertive in their thinking that Powell would get behind Obama, but Fineman got the same impression from his contacts as well. For all anyone knows, they could be talking to the same people.

    If Powell does get behind Obama, it will dominate media cycles for at least two or three days, and will be a stunning symbolic rebuke of the Republican party and its presidential candidate, a man Powell considers a friend to whom he gave $2,300 in August of 2007 when many thought his campaign was finished.

    McClatchy has an interesting story about how the Latin American Left is gloating about the federal government bailout in the United States.   The whole thing is worth reading.

    CARACAS, Venezuela — They don’t call him President Bush in Venezuela anymore.

    Now he’s known as “Comrade.”

    With the Bush administration’s Treasury Department resorting to government bailout after government bailout to keep the U.S. economy afloat, leftist governments and their political allies in Latin America are having a field day, gloating one day and taunting Bush the next for adopting the types of interventionist government policies that he’s long condemned.

    “We were just talking about that this morning on the floor,” said Congressman Edwin Castro, who heads the leftist Sandinista congressional bloc in Nicaragua. “We think the Bush administration should follow the same policies that they and the International Monetary Fund have always told us to follow when we have economic problems — a structural adjustment that requires cutting government spending and reducing the role of government.

    “One of our economists was telling us that Bush has just implemented communism for the rich,” Castro said.

    Pakistan, which has one of the largest military forces in the world, is a declared nuclear power, and has Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban running around in their backyard is on the verge of bankruptcy, unless the international community provides the cash to get them out of this mess.

    This will make me sleep better at night.