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Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy’

Cartoon: Iraqi puppets

August 3, 2011 1 comment

As Iraq dithers on its decision regarding US troop extension beyond 2012, violence only increases in the war-torn nation. The cartoon shows the massive presence US boots have in Iraq, but that the military is simply biding its time as Iraq tears itself apart. Iraqis have increased suicide bombings, targeted their own oil fields and ramped up sectarian violence.

The US has long played puppetmaster in Iraq. All bets are off when the US cuts the strings. Instability and unpredictability are about the only things foreign investors and Iraqi citizens can count on. That will have a detrimental effect on investment and economic recovery for decades to come. Not only that, but a stressed economic system and security situation will only cement corruption in the hands of powerful, oppressive leaders who believe they must resort to force.

The US might have unnecessarily involved itself in Iraq when it went to war there in 2003, and it might leave Iraq’s society and economy even more tangled.

From UPI:

Stuart W. Bowen Jr. said in his quarterly report that June was the deadliest month for the U.S. military in more than two years, with 14 soldiers killed, The Washington Post said. Most of the deaths were the work of Shiite militias, he added.

“Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work,” Bowen wrote. “It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago.”

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Cutting US foreign assistance bad for economy, Arab democracy

August 2, 2011 1 comment

Everyone knows US foreign assistance is slated for spending cuts, but recent aid authorization bills show the major differences already forming between the House and Senate. Never has there been a better opportunity and greater need for democracy promotion and US aid than the Arab Spring. But if the House gets its way, that will mean a sharply decreased US role abroad — and, as I will argue, to the detriment of the US economy.

First, let’s start with the facts. The foreign assistance fund — which includes food aid, supporting stable democratic institutions and the like — is not in any way related to the defense budget. Politicians usually lump the two together, whether intentionally or not, because our military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have undertaken the ostensible role of democracy promotion. But when you look at the numbers, foreign assistance accounts for a mere 1 percent of the US budget. That still hasn’t stopped people like Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., from suggesting cuts of 44 percent by 2016. By comparison defense budget — cuts to which the House has tried to avoid — is the largest spending item in the US budget, comprising 24 percent of total spending this fiscal year.

Many people believe the US should turn inward — some argue the nation cannot project itself abroad when it cannot take care of its economic issues at home. I don’t buy that argument. US-based nongovernmental organizations will continue to do a lot of the heavy lifting overseas when it comes to international aid, but they will need government grants to keep major operations going. Denying those funds could lead to job loss, so keeping foreign assistance at current funding levels will keep Americans at work.

Also, it is in US economic interests to promote healthy governments and citizens because it will lead to economic rewards in the future. Corrupt, undemocratic governments will generally operate at the expense of their own people largely by keeping growing wealth for the government elite. That means people have less money to spend on more expensive American goods, which in turn dampens US overseas profits.

Curbing corruption will also ensure future US investment is not wasted. Billions of dollars of US investment — both from the federal government and private citizens or corporations — get lost among red tape or swindling politicians in corrupt foreign nations. Some of those nations — such as Afghanistan, Mongolia and India — sit on treasures of natural resources the US lacks, so US business interests are more than happy to invest. Cleaning up those states would produce a greater return on that investment.

In terms of the hopeful new Arab democracies, US foreign assistance can help build trust between those governing in Arab nations and the US officials with whom they will be communicating. It’s no secret that Egyptians oppose US meddling, a fear the military there is exploiting. But it’s not the Arab street the US must win over — it’s the new, democratically-elected leaders with whom the US must curry favor. The US already is training potential political leaders in Libya, Syria and Egypt — certainly a good start. The US wants to be the nation those new leaders look toward for guidance, but cutting foreign assistance will imperil the US ability to help guide new Arab democracies through the troubles they will encounter during nascent stages. In turn, that will dampen the ability to do everything from strike bilateral trade agreements to establishing and supporting sound human rights protections.

On top of the general budget malaise, a Foreign Relations Authorization bill currently going through the motions on Capitol Hill makes it more difficult for the US to use international aid in corrupt nations:

The corruption indicator has a range of uncertainly (especially around the median) and can have time lags of up to two years.  Using the control of corruption indicator as a hard hurdle for all U.S. economic and development assistance without addressing the inherent problems in the indicator could prove highly challenging.

That bill, pushed by the House (there also is a less restrictive Senate version) is not likely to pass in the Senate. But the writing is on the wall for US foreign assistance. If this debt ceiling fiasco proved anything, it’s that the House and Senate are beholden to very different interests and views. The House will champion spending cuts abroad because, rhetorically, it sounds good. The House will stomach defense cuts, but it will not digest those cuts easily. Still, it’s the assault on foreign assistance that should induce gagging.

 

Arab Spring is not the same as post-USSR

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, who spent years covering the post-USSR transition to democracy, wrote last week that Arab Spring nations need to rush to the polls in order to seize the democratic moment. She compared her experiences in post-USSR nations to what is occurring in the Arab world. But her basis for comparison is flawed. As I argue below, Arab Spring elections should delay until fledgling political parties form because the democratic conditions regarding the Arab Spring are not similar to post-USSR Central and Eastern European nations.

First, the USSR represented a top-down style of governance that affected a dozens of territories that would later become free and independent nations. That impacted local political organizational structure in the sense that Kazakhstan, Ukraine, etc. did not have local governing bodies with any tangible effect on the economy, welfare, etc. That is simply not the case with Arab Spring nations, which already have developed strong networks of political organization that would not have been possible in the USSR.

Second, the USSR was a centralized economy. The new nations borne out of the USSR’s downfall opened their economies partially because they wanted to become part of an increasingly integrated world, but they were not prepared for the shocks of misplaced resources and productive inefficiency when they opened their borders. The USSR, by being such a large region and keeping commerce within its borders, could subsidize and artificially sustain failing industries. The new nations quickly discovered most of their technology was so old and the cost of production so high that they were not economically viable in the open market.

Arab Spring nations’ products have operated in the free market for years, although much of these nations’ revenues come from oil. Still, even having that resource is something post-USSR nations did not have, and therefore it is up to Arab citizens to democratically elect the representatives they feel will best handle those oil revenues — whether that means setting up a more comprehensive welfare system, using it to create business tax credits or other initiatives. Most Arab Spring nations have at least some semblance of free markets and politicians therefore must make decisions whether to keep those markets open, open them further or close them. All of these are economically philosophical questions that require debate and dialogue between established parties, and it’s a dialogue that did not exist in the nascent post-USSR days.

Third, while Arab nations’ press freedoms are certainly limited by U.S. standards, they are by far and away more developed than the former USSR. Noting this, there is a greater window for press debate of party positions and philosophy prior to voting in democratic elections in Arab Spring nations than there were in post-USSR nations. Arab Spring nations have seized the benefits of social media, and it would be a shame if those nations stopped short of allowing the press to analyze and discuss party platforms prior to these democratic elections.

Fourth, and final for now, post-USSR nations had no existing foreign policy legacy once that nation dissolved whereas Arab nations are entangled in a variety of agreements with other Arab nations, the West (usually over oil and Israel) and emerging economies such as India and China (also for oil). Foreign policy will be an enormously important issue for Arab voters, where doctrines and agreements could be jeopardized, reversed or enhanced based on whichever party wins the majority. This has serious implications for Israel and the shifting geopolitical power structure concerning relations with China and India relative to a somewhat declining U.S.

“Middle East Marshall Plan” should include human rights promotion

U.S. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are planning a sort of Middle East Marshall Plan by tying U.S. intervention with business and economic interests. IF (and I say IF) this is what the U.S. decides to do to break its relative isolation during the Arab Spring, the senators should work to promote human rights at the same time.

This extremely nauseating puff piece about the war veterans/politicians/BFFLs seemed to care less about the news and  more about their on-again, off-again Beltway lovefest. I hope WaPo plans on a follow with some analysis, but in case they don’t, I’ll go ahead and do it anyway.

From The Washington Post:

The elder statesmen are also hoping to forge something resembling a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, aiming to spur massive private-sector investment across a region remade by revolution. The pair traveled to Egypt last weekend with eight Fortune 500 executives in an attempt to ignite investment in a country that has struggled since the February fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Human and basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech and free and open elections, ideally, would come before economic development. Without human rights, society is at greater risk of corruption and abuse.

The U.S. has had its rear end pinned to the pine when it comes to supporting revolutionary forces in the Arab Spring. So the first proactive approach the U.S. makes is to support investment and U.S. economic interests, which is not going to set off a ticker tape parade in most Arab countries.

By promoting human rights in tandem with economic interests, the U.S. will appear more benevolent and also secure more stable investments. Fortifying institutions such as free and open elections will make politicians more accountable and curb corruption, which will mean a more honest and even approach to things from government contracts to welfare. Human rights reform will reduce workplace abuses, alleviate gender wage and employment differentials and therefore lead to a more productive and stable economy.

There’s also the dangers posed by opening up economies to the global market when those nations do not have sound human rights protections. “Race to the bottom” scenarios could develop in which nations depress wages to earn a competitive advantage for foreign investment. It also makes exports cheaper and therefore more attractive in the international market, but at the expense of a nation’s own people because it decreases purchasing power. That, in turn, diminishes the opportunity to innovate and be entrepreneurial because citizens have less disposable income and have to provide for families on sub-standard wages.

This is obviously asking for a lot. Promoting business will address youth unemployment, one of the largest causes of the Arab Spring. That alone would go a long way. But the U.S. should aim to have equal involvement in helping craft institutions and human rights reform as it does in boosting the Middle East economy.

Ultimately, the U.S. is currying favor with future Arab leaders, and one way to do that is by bolstering those nations’ economies. The U.S. doesn’t negotiate trade or peace agreements with the Arab street, so I understand the tactic.

But the U.S. has often worried about its image in the Arab world, and its hesitance to support revolutionary forces has not been viewed positively by most Arabs. The perceived inconsistency of the State Department — intervening in Libya but not Syria, for example — only amplifies that negative image.

I truly believe a more active approach to human rights promotion is possible. There is a power vacuum in the Arab world, unlike China, where the U.S. has also used rhetoric rather than might to encourage human rights reforms. The Arab street genuinely wants the freedoms U.S. and other nations have, so I believe it would be more receptive to U.S. help.

Diplomatically, America’s hands are tied. Intervening on the side of revolutionary forces will send a signal to allies that the U.S. is fickle. But the Arab street sees a contradiction between U.S. actions and its purported values of freedom and liberty. Arabs see that as hypocrisy, which amounts to an image problem of the worst kind.

 

Impact of Jordan decision not to recognize Palestinian statehood

Jordan’s announcement that it would not recognize the Palestinian Authority’s seemingly imminent unilateral declaration of statehood will send shockwaves around the Arab world. While the Arab Spring has united the Arab world and occurred irrespective of the Palestinian statehood question, the Hashemite Kingdom’s stance will certainly provoke strong reaction.

Arab leaders have rallied around the Palestinian cause for political gain, although the only Arab country with a true vested interest in Palestinians is Jordan. Most Arab nations — Syria being the most prominent example — have used Palestinians as rhetoric and as a political football. Many Arab nations reject Palestinian citizens from entering their borders, as even the opening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been met with resistance.

Jordan's border with Israel and West Bank could be more volatile with Palestinian statehood

Jordan, however, begrudgingly accepted Palestinians. They are second class citizens in that country despite comprising nearly half the population. So if anyone is an authority on Palestinian statehood and refugees in the Arab world, it’s Jordan.

But as new Arab governments come to power, they may be less beholden to United States and other Western influences. The U.S. supported many Arab dictators — like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak — because they were willing to support Israel’s right to exist. However, that view was not aligned with the Arab street in those nations. As democratically elected governments come to power in Tunisia and Egypt, and possibly Libya in due time, it will be more difficult for the U.S. to interfere and pressure those leaders to support the unpopular cause of aiding Israel.

Jordan may now have partially ostracized itself among a new group of Arab leaders by essentially breaking a party line. It will be interesting to see how accepted Jordan is when a new government in Egypt takes control. And if Bashar al Assad remains in power, Jordan will not be spared from his vitriol. Same goes for Iran.

Jordan’s stance on Palestinian statehood breaks from Arab solidarity on that issue. Jordan already has set itself apart from Arab nations by its cool but cordial relations with Israel, which may be more for Jordan’s own border security than shared ideological beliefs. Jordan maintains respectable ties with Israel out of necessity because they share a border. Their histories would not naturally align the two.

And that is why Jordan is making this decision — the border. A unilaterally-declared Palestinian state would mean Israeli involvement, as it could be considered aggressive behavior because Israel believes it has a right to settlements in the West Bank. Politically, Jordan had to try its best to maintain the status quo and keep as quiet a border as possible with Israel and the West Bank. By not lending its support to Palestinian statehood, Jordan shields itself from Israeli blame and the associated political ramifications.

The U.S. will undoubtedly veto any UN Security Council resolution, so the Palestinian Authority will have to appeal to the General Assembly for symbolic support of statehood. Nothing will be official until the Security Council agrees, which is unlikely for the indefinite future.

Side note:

Interestingly, the YNet story also had this to say about Palestinian identification papers in Jordan:

Meanwhile, the paper also reported that Jordan is preparing to cancel the identification papers provided for Palestinian statesmen and their families. The decision was explained as a move that began with a 1988 ruling “to disengage from the West Bank and maintain Palestinian identity”.

The wording is extremely vague. I’m not sure yet what it means to “cancel” identification papers. The papers were issued to Palestinian refugees beginning in 1988 to distinguish them from Jordanian citizens. The Jordanian government put a nice spin on it with that quote, but it ultimately has been used to discriminate against Palestinians in Jordan rather than to “maintain Palestinian identity” out of some source of nationalistic pride. By canceling these papers, are Palestinians in Jordan recognized as the same as Jordanians? Or are they now officially nomads with no national identity or rights? I’ll have to look into this.

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