U.S. Foreign Relations in 2013 – 2014

Written by  //  December 29, 2014  //  Foreign Policy, U.S.  //  1 Comment

Kevin Drum: Obama’s Foreign Policy: Frustrating, Perhaps, But Better Than Most of the Alternatives
(Mother Jones) Overall, I continue to think that Obama’s foreign policy has been better than he gets credit for. He’s made plenty of mistakes, but that’s par for the course in international affairs. There are too many moving parts involved, and the US has too little leverage over most of them, to expect great outcomes routinely. When I look at some of the worst situations in the world (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Israel-Palestine) I mostly see places that the US has little control over once you set aside straight-up military interventions. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem: the mere perception that an intervention is conceivable colors how we view these situations.
Take the long, deadly war in the Congo, for example. Nobody blames Obama for this because nobody wants us to send troops to the Congo—and everyone understands that once a military response is off the table, there’s very little we can do there. Conversely, we do blame Obama for deadly civil wars in places like Iraq and Syria. Why? Not really for any good reason. It’s simply because there’s a hawkish domestic faction in US politics that thinks we should intervene in those places. This, however, doesn’t change the facts on the ground—namely that intervention would almost certainly be disastrous. It just changes the perception of whether the US has options, and thus responsibility.
Max Fisher: Obama’s foreign policy report card for 2014
(Vox) 2014 was not a great year for Obama’s foreign policy. What follows is a highly subjective and unscientific report card for US foreign policy, divided across what appeared to be its 10 highest priorities. I’m grading based on the degree to which the administration did or did not accomplish its own goals, rather than on the merits of those goals themselves or the general benevolence of U.S. foreign policy itself.
18 December
U.S. President Obama greets Cuban President Castro at the memorial service for Mandela in JohannesburgBehind the scenes of the US-Cuba deal
Secrecy, the pope and Canada played crucial parts in the 18-month effort to reach the historic agreement
(The Guardian) by the time Obama drew accusations of pandering to a dictator for going out of his way to shake Raúl Castro’s hand at Nelson Mandela’s funeral a year ago, the US and Cuba were engaged in a more far-reaching and secret effort to find a different path. The Vatican helped initiate the talks and finalise the deal. Canada, which Havana has used to bypass the blockade and is the source of a steady flow of tourists to Cuban resorts, hosted several rounds of negotiations.
US-Cuba deal: a marriage 18 months in the making, blessed by Pope Francis
Nothing about the past year and a half, from the secret talks in Canada to the public handshake at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, happened by accident
If ever there was a lingering illusion that Barack Obama might have “accidentally” bumped into the president of Cuba at the funeral of Nelson Mandela last December, it will have vanished like a puff of cigar smoke.
What was purportedly an unscripted public handshake at that event in Soweto was, as it turned out, the culmination of six months of secret diplomatic talks held far away in Canada.
But it took another year, and the repeated intervention of no less a figure than Pope Francis, to get to a point where officials in Washington and Havana felt able to tell the world what was really going on – after a final phone call between Obama and Raúl Castro on Tuesday to seal the deal.
The United States and Cuba Begin Restoring Relations — Exploring Ripple Effects of the U.S.-Cuba Thaw
(Stratfor) Cuban and U.S. officials will hold high-level meetings in the coming months, and the two countries will work toward establishing embassies in Havana and Washington. The United States will also immediately relax some sanctions on trade and travel to Cuba. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would loosen certain restrictions on financial transactions with Cuba, remove some restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, and authorize the export of certain goods to the Cuban private sector. The U.S. State Department will also review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Obama has the legal authority to immediately implement the measures he announced, but he left the issue of formally lifting the trade embargo up to Congress. Together, the announcements signaled a gradual process of reopening Cuba to the United States.
Havana has much to gain from starting such a process, especially at a time when its regional partner, Venezuela, faces severe instability. Cuba fears that a declining Venezuelan economy will limit one of the island nation’s sources of financing and low-cost petroleum shipments while it is attempting to transition toward a new leadership and economic model.
Good Riddance to a Ridiculous Cuba Policy
President Obama did what needed to be done: Alan Gross is home, and the U.S. has reversed its 50-year hostility toward Cuba.
(The Atlantic) Critics of the Obama administration, and critics of the Castro regime, will say that today’s decision to normalize relations between the two countries represents a victory for one-party rule. I think they are wrong; there is a very good chance that the U.S. comes out the winner in this new arrangement, and not only because Alan Gross is now home.
It is difficult for a Castro to agree to normalized relations with the United States; anti-Americanism is a pillar of the regime. But looking around Cuba earlier this year, it was apparent that there was an opening for the Obama administration to change direction and actually influence the course of events inside Cuba.
President Obama—and Benjamin Rhodes, the National Security Council aide who led the negotiations with Cuba—saw an opportunity to open up Cuba to American influence, and they took it. They will be criticized mercilessly—they already are—for giving too much ground to the Cuban regime. But Obama and his team knew something that many previous administrations before them also knew: U.S. policy toward Cuba was self-defeating. Five decades of an embargo, five decades of hostility, had not dislodged the Castro brothers, and had not brought even a suggestion of democracy to the island.

US and Cuba to normalise diplomatic relations after months of secret talks

Surprise breakthrough came after 45-minute phone call between President Obama and Raúl Castro finalised the release of US prisoner Alan Gross
The United States and Cuba have ended decades of cold war hostility by agreeing to normalise diplomatic and travel relations after 18 months of secret talks on prisoner releases brokered by the Vatican.
The surprise breakthrough came after a 45-minute phone call between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Tuesday finalised the release of Alan Gross, a US government aid contractor held for five years in Cuba, which accused him of being a spy.
13 December
The Passionate Eye: Last Chance to See Castro’s Cuba
Travel to Cuba, as the iconic island undergoes sweeping economic changes in preparation for life after Fidel Castro & a new relationship with the U.S.
In April last year, in a last-ditch attempt to save Cuba from financial ruin, Raul Castro introduced more than three hundred sweeping economic reforms. From ending the rations program to cutting 1 million public-sector jobs, the Caribbean’s communist bastion is rolling back its state, changing the country forever. A year on, the reforms are kicking in and BBC reporter Simon Reeve is on his way to Cuba to discover their far reaching effects on this tiny iconic island and its people. NOTE: Episode only available within Canada for a limited time after broadcast
28 November
With the resignation of Chuck Hagel, President Obama has ‘burnt’ his way through three Secretaries of Defense, two of them Republicans, the last two of whom served only 20 months each. Moreover, both of Hagel’s predecessors’ published memoirs of their days in the Pentagon that were critical of his micro-management style & his lack of comprehension of military matters. And while Hagel came into his job on the same page as Obama, he was quickly shut out by a White House that wants yes men rather than people who tell it the way it is, as soon as he started asking questions. So it is not surprising that Obama’s top choices to replace Hagel have turned him down politely. This is not a good omen at a time both China & Russia seem bent on testing America’s military resolve. (Nick’s Gleanings 28 Nov)

The Unraveling — How to Respond to a Disordered World
By Richard N. Haass
With U.S. hegemony waning and no successor waiting to pick up the baton, the current international system will likely give way to a larger number of power centers acting with increasing autonomy. The post–Cold War order is unraveling, and it will be missed.
(Foreign Affairs) Left unattended, the current world turbulence is unlikely to fade away or resolve itself. Bad could become worse all too easily should the United States prove unwilling or unable to make wiser and more constructive choices. Nor is there a single solution to the problem, as the nature of the challenges varies from region to region and issue to issue. In fact, there is no solution of any sort to a situation that can at best be managed, not resolved.
But there are steps that can and should be taken. In the Middle East, the United States could do worse than to adopt the Hippocratic oath and try above all to do no further harm. The gap between U.S. ambitions and U.S. actions needs to be narrowed, and it will normally make more sense to reduce the former than increase the latter. The unfortunate reality is that democratic transformations of other societies are often beyond the means of outsiders to achieve. Not all societies are equally well positioned to become democratic at any given moment. Structural prerequisites may not be in place; an adverse political culture can pose obstacles. Truly liberal democracies may make for better international citizens, but helping countries get to that point is more difficult than often recognized — and the attempts often riskier, as immature or incomplete democracies can be hijacked by demagoguery or nationalism. Promoting order among states — shaping their foreign policies more than their internal politics — is an ambitious enough goal for U.S. policy to pursue. …
The United States also needs to put its domestic house in order, both to increase Americans’ living standards and to generate the resources needed to sustain an active global role. A stagnant and unequal society will be unlikely to trust its government or favor robust efforts abroad. This need not mean gutting defense budgets, however; to the contrary, there is a strong case to be made that U.S. defense spending needs to be increased somewhat. The good news is that the United States can afford both guns and butter, so long as resources are allocated appropriately and efficiently. Another reason to get things right at home is to reduce American vulnerability. U.S. energy security has improved dramatically in recent years, thanks to the oil and gas revolutions, but the same cannot be said about other problems, such as the country’s aging public infrastructure, its inadequate immigration policy, and its long-term public finances.
As has recently been noted in these pages, American political dysfunction is increasing rather than decreasing, thanks to weakened parties, powerful interest groups, political finance rules, and demographic changes. Those who suggest that the country is only a budget deal away from comity are as mistaken as those who suggest that the country is only one crisis away from restored national unity. The world can see this, and see as well that a majority of the American public has grown skeptical of global involvement, let alone leadership. Such an attitude should hardly be surprising given the persistence of economic difficulties and the poor track record of recent U.S. interventions abroad. But it is up to the president to persuade a war-weary American society that the world still matters — for better and for worse — and that an active foreign policy can and should be pursued without undermining domestic well-being.
In fact, sensible foreign and domestic policies are mutually reinforcing: a stable world is good for the home front, and a successful home front provides the resources needed for American global leadership. Selling this case will be difficult, but one way to make it easier is to advance a foreign policy that tries to reorder the world rather than remake it. But even if this is done, it will not be enough to prevent the further erosion of order, which results as much from a wider distribution of power and a decentralization of decision-making as it does from how the United States is perceived and acts. The question is not whether the world will continue to unravel but how fast and how far. (November|December 2014)

20 November
Eavesdropping on Pakistani Official Led to Inquiry Into Former U.S. Diplomat
(NYT) American investigators intercepted a conversation this year in which a Pakistani official suggested that his government was receiving American secrets from a prominent former State Department diplomat, officials said, setting off an espionage investigation that has stunned diplomatic circles here.

That conversation led to months of secret surveillance on the former diplomat, Robin L. Raphel, and an F.B.I. raid last month at her home, where agents discovered classified information, the officials said.

The investigation is an unexpected turn in a distinguished career that has spanned four decades. Ms. Raphel (pronounced RAY-full) rose to become one of the highest-ranking female diplomats and a fixture in foreign policy circles, serving as ambassador to Tunisia and as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in the Clinton administration.

10 September
This is the speech Obama would give on ISIS if he were brutally honestBrilliant!
(Vox) em>But let me be clear: this plan won’t destroy ISIS, now or possibly ever. This is just not something that we can accomplish without re-invading, and there is no way I’m going to end my presidency with a second major American occupation of Iraq. That being said, what I’m proposing has a decent shot at pushing the group out of Iraq. And right now, that’s the best we can hope for.
Statement by the President on ISIL
American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. And that’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.
Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.
15 August
Obama’s Bombshell
(Foreign Affairs) The Unintended Consequences of Air Strikes in Iraq
11 July
Rodrigue Tremblay: The Blundering Obama Administration and its Apparent Incoherent Foreign Policy
Am I alone in having the uneasy feeling, while listening to Barack Obama’s speeches, that we are witnessing an actor playing the role of an American president and carefully reading the script he has been given? As time goes by, indeed, Barack Obama seems to be morphing more and more into a Democratic George W. Bush. Those who write his speeches seem to have the same warmongering mentality as those who wrote George W. Bush’s or Dick Cheney’s speeches, ten years ago.
That’s probably no accident since Neocons occupy key positions in Barack Obama’s administration as they did under George W. Bush when they pushed the United States into the war in Iraq, and as they have also tried to push the United States toward a military showdown with Iran and as they are now attempting to provoke Russia into a military conflict. How Neocons can infiltrate both Republican and Democratic administrations and be trouble-makers in both administrations is the daily wonder of American politics!
30 June
See also Russia and Ukraine
Blackwater considered itself above the law, US state department was warned
Department told of lax oversight at firm with $1bn contract to protect US diplomats weeks before Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqis
On 16 September 2007, Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqis at Nisour Square. A nine-year-old boy was among the civilians killed. Federal prosecutors later said Blackwater personnel had shot indiscriminately with automatic weapons and heavy machine guns, and had used grenade launchers. Four Blackwater guards involved in the shooting are on trial in Washington, the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in a US court after previous charges against five guards were dismissed in 2009.
The shooting soured relations between the US and Iraq, contributing to Baghdad’s refusal the next year to agree to a treaty allowing US troops to stay in the country beyond 2011. The absence of a deal haunts the Obama administration to this day. Critics cite the lack of a US troop presence as a factor behind the military success of the jihadist militants of Isis (NYT) State Department Documents on Blackwater Episode — These State Department documents are related to an August 2007 inquiry into Blackwater’s operations in Iraq, and a State Department investigator’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him. The episode occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square
28 May
At West Point, President Obama binds America’s hands on foreign affairs
(WaPost Editorial) In his address Wednesday to the graduating cadets at West Point , Mr. Obama marshaled a virtual corps of straw men, dismissing those who “say that every problem has a military solution,” who “think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak,” who favor putting “American troops into the middle of [Syria’s] increasingly sectarian civil war,” who propose “invading every country that harbors terrorist networks” and who think that “working through international institutions . . . or respecting international law is a sign of weakness.”
Reiterating and further tightening a doctrine he laid out in a speech to the United Nations last fall, Mr. Obama said the United States should act unilaterally only in defense of a narrow set of “core interests,” such as the free flow of trade. When “crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction,” he said, “we should not go it alone.”
This binding of U.S. power places Mr. Obama at odds with every U.S. president since World War II. In effect, he ruled out interventions to stop genocide or reverse aggression absent a direct threat to the U.S. homeland or a multilateral initiative.
Beyond Obama’s West Point speech: a foreign puzzle, not a real foreign policy
The president wants us to look past Afghanistan and Iraq. OK, fine: from drones to Damascus and Putin to the planet, these are parts of a not very unified whole
(The Guardian) Facts, not rhetoric, paint a picture of this administration’s troubling and often counterproductive inconsistency abroad. There is some good, but there is plenty that’s really bad.
From drones and emissions, to the South China Sea to Somalia to the Crimea and back again, it’s not easy connect the many dots of America’s foreign policies. Because aside from tortured rhetoric, unified they are not.
… to be fair, today’s world offers none of the binary clarity of the cold war or even the global war on terror. It’s complicated out there.
From his speech, it sounds like Obama is convinced of the right things: negotiation (not war) with Iran; a push for nuclear disarmament; cutting carbon emissions. But it’s hard not to wish that there was a greater sense of someone stitching these many threads into a greater whole, while abandoning those parts, like drone strikes, that are downright wrong.
21 mAY
Peter Beinart; Putting Ukraine in Its Place
From the current debates you’d never know what matters more: Russia’s land grab, Iran’s nuclear program, or China’s territorial claims. How America stopped thinking strategically.
(The Atlantic) The point is not that the U.S. should see China as an enemy. Americans will be far better off if the relationship between Washington and Beijing never deteriorates into cold war. But what America needs now with regard to China is leverage: the leverage that comes from a strong economy, a strong military, and strong relations with China’s neighbors. American foreign-policy debates should focus on how to achieve these things. And if doing so requires the United States to temper its responses elsewhere, so be it. If you can’t decide which parts of the world matter less, you can’t influence the ones that matter most.
29 April
Obama Lashes Out At Foreign Policy Critics
(HuffPost) President Barack Obama ended his tour of several Asian countries on Monday with a passionate and unscripted defense of his foreign policy agenda, flogging his critics for having once championed more aggressive approaches during the years of his predecessor.
“For some reason, many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again,” Obama said during a press conference in Manila with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. “Why? I don’t know. But my job as commander in chief is to look at what is it that is going to advance our security interests over the long term, to keep our military in reserve for where we absolutely need it.”
25 April
Obama’s Asia trip off to a bad start with failure to reach agreement on trade in Tokyo
(WaPost) U.S. and Japanese officials gave starkly different assessments Friday on key trade negotiations, as President Obama left Tokyo without a final agreement on a deal to improve access to Japanese markets for U.S. producers. A senior Obama administration said the two countries had achieved a “breakthrough” in their effort to help advance a broader, 12-nation free trade accord known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative. But Akira Amari, a Japanese state minister in charge of the trade talks for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, said in Tokyo that there were still several unresolved issues.
23 April
Obama seeks to ease Asian allies’ doubts during visit to Japan
(Reuters) – President Barack Obama will use a state visit to Japan on Thursday to try to reassure Tokyo and other Asian allies of his commitment to ramping up U.S. engagement in the region, despite Chinese complaints that Washington’s real aim is to contain Beijing’s rise.
The challenge for Obama during his week-long, four-nation tour will be to convince Asian partners that Washington is serious about its promised strategic “pivot” towards the region, while at the same time not harming U.S. ties with China, the world’s second-biggest economy.
27 March
Barack Obama: no cold war over Crimea
US president insists military solution not an option, saying pressure and diplomacy are the way forward in Crimea dispute
(The Guardian) Barack Obama declared there were no easy answers nor military solutions to the Crimea crisis, but cast Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a lonely villain shredding the international rulebook to bully a smaller neighbour.
Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Black sea peninsula did not herald a new cold war, Obama told 2,000 people gathered in an arts centre in central Brussels in the big speech of his four-day trip to Europe.
But it was also clear that the Kremlin’s actions in recent weeks had triggered a deep shift in western perceptions of Putin that would see Russia increasingly isolated internationally and exposed to a spiralling trade war with the west, depending on his next moves.
17 March
Obama imposes sanctions on 11 Russians, Ukrainians over Crimea
(Reuters) – The United States and European Union imposed personal sanctions on Monday on Russian and Crimean officials involved in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing the region as a sovereign state.
U.S. President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for the seizure, including Yanukovich, and Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev, two aides to Putin. … A senior U.S. official said Obama’s order cleared the way to sanction people associated with the arms industry and targets “the personal wealth of cronies” of the Russian leadership. (Bloomberg) Obama Expands U.S. Sanctions Against Russian Officials
16 March
Dr. Charles Cogan: ‘You Have to Understand, George. Ukraine Is Not Even a Country’
Thus spake Vladimir Putin to the second George Bush, the man who once said that he had looked into Putin’s eyes and decided he could work with him. …
However mishandled the U.S. and the EU initiatives toward the Ukraine were, we should now look upon Putin’s recent actions — including and especially his abrogation of the 1994 Budapest Agreement, to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity — as something beyond the pale. We should look into his eyes, so to speak, … and come to the conclusion that he is not a person whose word is to be trusted. He should be countered, whatever the ambiguities of Russia’s relationship to the Crimea and the larger Ukraine are.
15 February
Our Wednesday Night commentariat is not amused:
David T.Jones: Potty-mouth Diplomacy
(The Metropolitain) Nuland is no trivial figure; she is the USG highest ranking diplomat addressing European issues and, inter alia, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. However, “Toria,” as she is known to some, also has a longstanding reputation, from her earliest days at State, for being a “potty mouth”–perhaps considered cute when she was a twenty-something, but now just crude. Presumably, none of her mentors/enablers ever firmly suggested that using “F…” implied a dearth of creative rhetoric in her vocabulary.
And, to say the least, Europeans are not amused. Germans, who have just absorbed stories of USG interception of Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone conversations, are even less. It is a little difficult to play “forgive and forget” when you have offended every European diplomat.
But most amusing is USG reaction–blame the Russians. Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, one spokesman suggested that Nuland’s childhood work on a Russian fishing trawler internalized such language. But just as desperate was the attempt to say that the Russians were acting inappropriately by drawing global attention to the comments, presumably first by intercepting and then releasing them. Well, duh. Moscow is at fault for your scatological incompetence?
In another world/era, such would be a firing offense. But Washington has moved beyond being embarrassed, let alone admitting error.
And a year from now, we will be puzzled why Europeans don’t support our demarches.
Charles Cogan: Babes in the Diplomatic Woods
(HuffPost) As a former intelligence officer, I learned some time ago, and to my chagrin, that when you are on an open phone line on an overseas call, you have to assume that the call is being intercepted.
Further, when you use purple language and discuss opposition figures in a foreign country, using nicknames, as though they were pieces in your own devised chess game, naming which one should enter a new government, etc.; at a moment when a neighboring major power is accusing you of meddling in the affaires of said country, you are once again gaining the reputation of an overbearing superpower throwing its weight around.
New Dimensions of U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Russia
(Stratfor) The struggle for some of the most strategic territory in the world took an interesting twist this week. Last week we discussed what appeared to be a significant shift in German national strategy in which Berlin seemed to declare a new doctrine of increased assertiveness in the world — a shift that followed intense German interest in Ukraine. This week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, in a now-famous cell phone conversation, declared her strong contempt for the European Union and its weakness and counseled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine to proceed quickly and without the Europeans to piece together a specific opposition coalition before the Russians saw what was happening and took action.
This is a new twist not because it makes clear that the United States is not the only country intercepting phone calls, but because it puts U.S. policy in Ukraine in a new light and forces us to reconsider U.S. strategy toward Russia and Germany. Nuland’s cell phone conversation is hardly definitive, but it is an additional indicator of American strategic thinking. Read more »
14 March
EU, U.S. to commit to remove all duties on transatlantic trade
U.S. President Barack Obama and European Union leaders will promise to remove all tariffs on bilateral trade at a summit on March 26, an ambitious step towards the world’s largest free-trade deal, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.
The joint declaration, if delivered as laid out in the draft, seeks to overcome tensions following Washington’s offer to cut its duties by less than the Europeans had hoped for and after Brussels pledged to remove almost all of its own tariffs.
“The EU and the United States are firmly committed to concluding a comprehensive and ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” the draft statement reads, referring to U.S.-EU free-trade talks by their official name.
“Those goals include eliminating all duties on bilateral goods trade,” says the statement, which will be delivered at the end of the day-long summit in Brussels.
The statement is subject to further negotiations with the United States.
The summit will seek to give fresh momentum to tough talks on a transatlantic trade deal encompassing half the world’s economic output in the hope that an accord can bring gains of around $100 billion a year for both sides.
It will also try to reach common ground on Ukraine, climate change and to assuage EU concerns about U.S. spying.
7 February
Victoria Nuland: Leaked call shows US hand on Ukraine
(BBC) Swearing scornfully about your allies isn’t great diplomacy – but it is the revelation of the depth of the US involvement in the Ukraine crisis that really catches the eye.
Behind the banging of batons and the chucking of petrol bombs lies a very old struggle: whether Ukraine faces east or west, whether it does trade deals with the European Union or Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ersatz Russian reflection of the EU, the Eurasian Union.
Much is at stake, not just for Ukraine, but others in the region facing a similar dilemma.
It seems Assistant US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, whose conversation with US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt was leaked on YouTube, felt the EU was being tardy and inefficient. Meet the Diplomat Who Told Off The European Union
9 January
Actually, Joe Biden Was Right
Published excerpts from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ upcoming memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, have put Washington into a tingling tizzy this week. Chief among the minor bombshells that have been released are Gates’ adjudication of the policies and positions advocated by Vice President Joe Biden. While Gates admits that the vice president was “a man of integrity,” he was, to Gates’ estimation, nevertheless “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” … While it’s swell that White House officials have taken up the matter of defending Biden’s character, perhaps with a little soul-searching, they might consider defending Biden on the merits as well. Because I’m sorry to say that Secretary Gates is wrong — Vice President Biden has not had a 40-year reign of error. Not if you recall the war on Afghanistan.
7 January
Is Iran the United States’ new best friend in the Middle East?
(CSM) Iran turned down a limited US invitation to the Syria peace conference, but the two have an increasingly common interest in stemming the rise of Sunni militancy in places like Iraq.

Since its 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has used Syria as a conduit for weapons, cash, and support for the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, and later Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all of which form a frontline against Israel. If Assad falls, Iran could lose that channel.

Reuters reports that the US State Department spokesman said that for Iran to have a role in the Syria peace talks, “they would have to demonstrate that they would do things that would be less destructive in Syria.”
The New York Times reports that while the US and Iran “quietly continue to pursue their often conflicting interests, they are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.” On Monday, Iran offered to join the US in sending military aid to the Iraqi government, which is engaged in a fierce struggle to oust Sunni militants from Iraq’s Anbar province.

2013

25 November
Dr. Charles Cogan: The Peacemaking Presidency
(HuffPost) In my view, the one major mistake in President Obama’s foreign policy was his decisions in favor of a double surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan, first in early 2009 and then in late 2009. Apart from this, what I see as a string of peaceful disengagements is painted by the President’s opponents and conveyed incessantly to the American public as characteristic of the man’s weakness and hesitancy. The historical record will prove otherwise.
1 November
Malala and Nabila: worlds apart
Unlike Malala Yousafzai, Nabila Rehman did not receive a welcoming greeting in Washington DC.
(Al Jazeera) If extrajudicial killings, drone strikes and torture are in fact all part of a just-cause associated with the liberation of the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, where is the sympathy or even simple recognition for the devastation this war has caused to countless little girls such as her? The answer is clear: The only people to be recognized for their suffering in this conflict are those who fall victim to the enemy. Malala for her struggles was to be made the face of the American war effort –  against her own will if necessary – while innumerable little girls such as Nabila will continue to be terrorized and murdered as part of this war without end. There will be no celebrity appearances or awards ceremonies for Nabila. At her testimony almost no one even bothered to attend.
But if they had attended, they would’ve heard a nine year old girl asking the questions which millions of other innocent people who have had their lives thrown into chaos over the past decade have been asking: “When I hear that they are going after people who have done wrong to America, then what have I done wrong to them? What did my grandmother do wrong to them? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
28 October
Barack Obama’s missteps anger allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia – and perhaps soon, Canada (EJ, Matthew Fisher)
(via Nick’s Gleanings #535) The US President has managed a diplomatic triple (bungle), simultaneously upsetting allies in Europe, the Middle East & Asia (which would become a ‘four-bagger’ if he doesn’t approve the Keystone XL pipeline). In the process he has cast the most doubt on the US’s global leadership & status in four decades. The current row with Europe over wiretapping follows the equally damaging effect on Asia’s political & business elite of his cancelling attendance at two regional summit meetings, and official visits to Malaysia & the Philippines, in the past month. In so doing he created a void China’s President Xi Jinping was only too happy to fill & undermined the credibility of his Asian ‘pivot’ strategy. And in the Middle East he upset Saudi Arabia by having done little to topple Syria’s Bashar al-Assad & being outfoxed by Putin, Assad’s backer, and exasperated the Gulf sheikdoms, Netanyahu & others by easing up on Iran, and everybody by his slow & fitful response to the Arab Spring & its aftermath. So the Middle East now wonders if it matters anymore to US policy makers, Asia frets over China’s longer & longer shadow, & Europe questions why its Trans-Atlantic ally is spying on it.
7 October
Unlike EU-US talks, TPP moves ahead despite shutdown
The U.S. government shutdown might have forced the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to postpone the second round of its trade talks with the European Union on Friday, but it doesn’t appear to be taking its toll yet on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.
Despite the USTR having a skeleton staff and resources so limited that it can’t even update its website, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman was nothing but sanguine about the TPP over the weekend.
4 October
Stratfor: The U.S. Federal Government has been shut down since Monday. While this is hardly catastrophic, it has affected U.S. foreign policy…slightly. The White House canceled President Barack Obama’s visit to Malaysia and the Philippines.
Canceled travel plans may seem insignificant, but a closer look at the purpose of the visit reveals otherwise. Top agenda items included:
Negotiating greater flexibility for the U.S. military to rotate into and operate out of Philippine bases; and
Moving forward with the U.S. led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Malaysia.
While both of these negotiations will most likely go in favor of the U.S., repeated delays could undermine the region’s sense of American reliability and cause Southeast Asian states to reconsider whether maintaining strong economic ties with China – despite its encroachments – is a better option.
Bottom line: the longer the United States allows the perception of incapacity to build around its foreign policy pivot, the more these countries will reconsider American reliability in shaping their own foreign policy. (4 October)
2 October
Government Shutdown Empties Offices Enforcing Sanctions on Iran
The shutdown has forced the Treasury Department to furlough most of the employees enforcing sanctions on Iran, just as the U.S. is beginning new negotiations.
(Daily Beast) With the government shut down, most U.S. officials enforcing sanctions on Iran are not at work, potentially undermining pressure on Tehran as U.S.-Iran negotiations recommence, according to administration officials, lawmakers, and experts.
11 September
Thomas L. Friedman: Threaten to Threaten
(NYT) If you’re an average American and are confused and worried about us getting embroiled in a no-win Syrian civil war, you’re right to be concerned. It means you’re paying attention. But if you’re a member of Congress or a senator who’s still wondering whether to grant President Obama the authority to use force to deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from again murdering hundreds of his people with poison gas, it now makes sense to take a timeout. That also means you’re paying attention.
… the convergence in the 2010s of Arab population explosions, joblessness, environmental degradation, water scarcity, falling oil revenues and the information revolution blew apart regimes that once seemed solid — Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Libya and Yemen — forcing us now to confront some new and very uncomfortable questions, not just the use of force.
8 September
President Obama’s Brilliant Strategy No One Seems To Recognize
As the media interprets recent events as Obama’s march to war, America and the world falls for it hook, line and sinker. Say what you want about Obama but he is a very smart man. He would never ask permission he did not need from Congress to launch a strike on Syria unless he knew beyond a doubt he could get it. That is if his real intentions were to actually carry out military operations. But why on earth does it appear he wants this war?
1 September
Obama’s Gamble — Seeking congressional approval for his Syria strike was risky and right.
(Slate) President Obama is taking a monumental gamble with his Rose Garden statement on war with Syria, but it’s a worthwhile one.
In recent days he and Secretary of State John Kerry have made a powerful case that Bashar al-Assad’s regime launched the chemical weapons that killed more than 1,000 civilians in a suburb of Damascus. All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have said, in a special report, that they have “high confidence” in this assessment.
Obama has also made a strong case that a military response is the proper action—not in order to get involved in the Syrian civil war (which he has said we cannot affect with force alone) or to oust Assad from power (though that may be a side effect), but rather to enforce a long-standing global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
However, this rationale for military strikes (which I agree with) puts him in a box. The organizations charged with enforcing international law are not joining in the attack. The U.N. Security Council is “paralyzed,” as Obama said in today’s speech, because Russia will certainly veto any resolution to use force. In the 1999 Kosovo crisis, President Clinton, also faced with Russian recalcitrance, turned to NATO as the entity to launch a massive air campaign. Obama’s aides cited Kosovo as a possible model when they floated the idea of a strike several days ago, but the British Parliament’s refusal to authorize force precludes the NATO option as well. Many members of the Arab League support American action against Assad, but they are unlikely to take a formal position either.
Obama has assembled a small coalition of foreign allies who have said they’ll join in an attack, including France, Australia, and—most important—Turkey. But this isn’t enough. And, again, this isn’t a matter of legal nicety. It’s a matter of political legitimacy, which will be needed to convince Assad that there’s determination behind the first few airstrikes—and to provide ballast in case the attack doesn’t have much effect.

World Outlook for 2013

Foreign Policy: Obama’s Moment Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that President Obama should use the first year of his second term to confront difficult foreign policy issues because history, not the public, will henceforth be his ultimate judge.
Big Bets and Black Swans: Foreign Policy Challenges for President Obama’s Second Term Brookings Foreign Policy experts have created a series of memos addressing “big bets”—policies in which the president should invest his power, time and prestige—and “black swans,” the low probability, high-impact events that could derail the administration’s priorities.
‘Barack, Be Bold!’: What Hillary’s Parting Advice Should Be
An Essay By Erich Follath
Hillary Clinton has amassed a wealth of frontline experience as US secretary of state, but she will soon be stepping down. Before leaving, though, she’s in an excellent position to give her boss some good advice on America’s foreign policy challenges. SPIEGEL envisions her fictional farewell letter.
Does the GOP Need a New Foreign Policy?
Can the Republican Party survive without coming to terms with the Bush-Cheney years? FP’s Shadow Government team weighs in.
In the January/February issue of Foreign Policy, Danielle Pletka outlines how the Republican Party should position itself on international affairs in the wake of Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat in the 2012 election. “If the GOP is to stand for something more than lower taxes and smaller government” Pletka writes, “it must return to the moral vision of a world in which the United States helps others achieve the freedoms it holds so dear.”
Daniel W. Drezner: Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy
Needed: Less Fox, More Foxes
(Foreign Affairs January/February 2013) Republicans need to start taking international relations more seriously, addressing the true complexities and requirements of the issues rather than allowing the subject to be a plaything for right-wing interest groups. And if they don’t act quickly, they might cede this ground to the Democrats for the next generation. … Republican presidents from the 1950s through the early 1990s had variegated records, but they had one thing in common: they left behind favorable legacies on foreign policy.
Chuck Hagel: A Republican Foreign Policy
The war on terrorism must top the U.S. foreign policy agenda — but it cannot be waged without also attending to the broader crisis in the developing world. Recognizing this, a Republican foreign policy should be guided by seven principles that seek to encourage stability, expand democracy, and strengthen key alliances. Above all, Washington must recognize that U.S. leadership depends as much on principle as it does on the exercise of power. (Foreign Affairs July/August 2004)

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Dr. Charles G. Cogan — Obama’s Saturday Surprise: Getting Ahead of the Game
(HuffPost) What the President has done is to share responsibility for following through on this commitment to the 500-plus members of the House and the Senate, proving that divided government may not be such a bad thing after all. In creating, in effect, 500-plus secretaries of state, and assuming the House rejects an attack, Obama may (or may not) choose to wriggle out of a commitment that has no promising end.
20 August
Surrounded: How the U.S. Is Encircling China with Military Bases
(Foreign Policy) The U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The latest link: a small airstrip on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan.
The Pentagon’s big, new strategy for the 21st century is something called Air-Sea Battle, a concept that’s nominally about combining air and naval forces to punch through the increasingly-formidable defenses of nations like China or Iran. It may sound like an amorphous strategy — and truth be told, a lot of Air-Sea Battle is still in the conceptual phase. But a very concrete part of this concept is being put into place in the Pacific. An important but oft-overlooked part of Air-Sea Battle calls for the military to operate from small, bare bones bases in the Pacific that its forces can disperse to in case their main bases are targeted by Chinese ballistic missiles.
While the U.S. military insists that Air Sea Battle, and the military’s entire pivot to Asia, isn’t about China, these bases are indeed a check against any future Chinese expansion into the Pacific ocean, according to Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“China will be much more discreet throughout the entire region because U.S. power is already there, it’s visible; you’re not talking theory, you’re already there in practice,” he said.
This will also reassure America’s allies in the region that the U.S. commitment to the Pacific is legit.
14 August
David T. Jones: Obama Plays Puerile Games with Putin
(Ottawa Citizen) Supposedly, the Russian extension of asylum to Edward Snowden was the last straw, demanding a huffy-puffy U.S. government response to persistent outrages. The Russians, according to this legend, are being bad guys by, inter alia, playing nice with Syria’s Bashar Assad; refusing to maximize pressure against Iran over its nuclear weapons program; and resisting European missile defense.
Well, yes. But the Russians also reached bilateral agreement over substantial reductions in strategic nuclear weapons, offered assistance on terrorism by providing information on the Boston marathon bomber Tsarnaev brothers and their family, and never interfered with U.S./Coalition logistic supply routes through Central Asia for forces in Afghanistan.
2 August
U.S. Issues Worldwide Travel Alert
The United States issued a global travel alert Friday, citing an al-Qaida threat that also caused the State Department to close 21 embassies and consulates this weekend in the Muslim world.
The State Department warned American citizens of the potential for terrorism particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, with a possible attack occurring or coming from the Arabian Peninsula.
Stratfor offers useful tips to US travelers Planning for a Safe Trip also applicable to citizens of many countries.
Russia gives Snowden asylum, Obama-Putin summit in doubt
(Reuters) – Russia rejected U.S. pleas and granted American fugitive Edward Snowden a year’s asylum on Thursday, letting the former spy agency contractor slip out of a Moscow airport after more than five weeks in limbo while angering the United States and putting in doubt a planned summit between the two nations’ presidents.
26 July
Ex-US General: We Pay a Price for Backing Israel
Slamming settlements, James Mattis, former commander of CentCom, tells crowd in Aspen that moderate Arabs are forced to hide support for America
He called the current situation in Israel “unsustainable” and blamed the settlements for harming prospects for peace. The chances for an accord between Israel and the Palestinians, said Mattis, “are starting to ebb because the settlements and where they’re at are going to make it impossible to maintain the two state solution.” © 2013 The Times of Israel, All rights reserved
The Snowden Effect
The bitter irony is that, at this suddenly inauspicious moment, Europe and the US are launching their most significant joint project since the creation of NATO – a transatlantic free-trade agreement. For the sake of its success, is it really too much to ask of the US that it play its part internationally with a bit more skill and professionalism, and that it treat its partners with respect?
(Project Syndicate) The continued leaking of classified information by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has provoked heated debate about privacy and international law, which, unfortunately, has overshadowed the geostrategic dimension of his actions. In fact, Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs, and his own ongoing struggle to avoid extradition, reveal much about President Barack Obama’s imprimatur on US foreign relations.
More than any other incoming American president in recent memory, Obama raised expectations worldwide. Yet he has proved to be mainly, if not solely, interested in domestic issues, resulting in a foreign policy of reaction. The Snowden affair highlights three elements of this: US-Russia relations, US influence in South America, and US relations with Europe.
1 July
Bugging row threatens EU-US trade deal
French president asks US to immediately cease spying on European institutions saying it could threaten key trade talks.
“There can be no negotiations or transactions in all areas until we have obtained these guarantees, for France but also for all of the European Union, for all partners of the United States,” he said.
Negotiations over creating the world’s largest free trade zone between the EU and the US are due to start on July 8 in Washington.
17 June
Obama’s Gamble in Syria
The president needs to explain his objective in arming the Syrian rebels, and why he thinks it’s a risk worth taking.
(Slate) … it’s unclear what he realistically hopes to accomplish with this step (which has yet to be defined in any case) and what further steps he might take if it doesn’t do the job. It’s also unclear how broadly he views this conflict and our role in it. Is the goal simply to stabilize Syria? Or does he also view the civil war as one piece of a regionwide Sunni-Shia conflict? (Clearly, the other interested outside powers do.) And in what way does he think his policies might exacerbate—or mitigate, reroute, or tone down—this larger, conflict? Or is he stepping into this deep muddy only to keep the Shia side, chiefly Iran and Hezbollah, from gaining too much strength? In which case, won’t this just ratchet up the violence and swell the death toll?
U.S. to arm Syrian rebels in wake of chemical weapons use
U.S. President Barack Obama authorized direct military support for the Syrian rebels Thursday. Syrian rebels are requesting heavy weaponry, but it’s unclear what the U.S. will provide or whether it will institute a “no-fly” zone. The Washington Post (tiered subscription model) (6/13), The Washington Post (tiered subscription model) (6/14), Reuters (6/14), National Public Radio/The Associated Press (6/14)
10 June
Xi-Obama: The Good-Enough Summit
(Council on Foreign Relations) Niceties aside, the Xi-Obama summit represents only the first step toward getting the U.S.-China bilateral relationship on more solid footing. For real progress in the relationship, there will have to be real progress across the wide range of issues that continue to bedevil the two countries. The two sides made some small progress on climate change, signing an agreement to cooperate on eliminating HFCs. The tougher issues remain, however. Cyber hacking has been relegated to the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, where issues generally experience a slow and painful death without actually ever dying. …
Conflicts in the East and South China Sea—among the most challenging issues the two countries face at the moment—were not addressed explicitly in the presidents’ summit remarks. And it is difficult to know whether to expect any real progress on the endless range of trade and investment issues to which both presidents and their representatives referred.
At the heart of the summit, however, was President Xi’s desire to be treated with respect and to have China and the United States forge a “new relationship among major powers.” President Xi got half of his wish. Certainly President Obama treated President Xi with respect; however he resisted Chinese efforts to elevate the U.S.-China relationship beyond that of the United States’ relations with its allies. While President Obama acknowledged that the two countries needed to have a “new model of cooperation,” he carefully avoided the Chinese phraseology of a “new model of major country relationships.”
5 June
Bill Clinton: Obama Risks Looking Like A ‘Wuss,’ ‘A Total Fool’ If He Doesn’t Act On Syria
(HuffPost) In their joint appearance Tuesday [11 June], Clinton said he agreed with McCain’s insistence that the U.S. get involved in the fight, saying he didn’t “think Syria is necessarily Iraq or Afghanistan.” While Clinton said he understood that many were likely hesitant, due to frequent reports showing a complex and messy situation, he suggested that Obama couldn’t view the conflict this way.
“Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit — like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment,” he said.
5 June
Tom Donilon Resigning: Obama National Security Adviser To Be Replaced By Susan Rice
Obama will also name Samantha Power, a human rights expert and former White House adviser, to replace Rice at the United Nations.
Foreign Policy comments: It is unclear, however, how her selection will impact U.S. policy. Rice is a far more outspoken advocate of U.S. intervention abroad, especially to prevent mass slaughter, than Donilon. She was a key advocate in favor of intervening in Libya, and she is said to have been deeply impacted by the failure of the international community to stop the genocide in Rwanda, a decision she herself was involved in while working in the Clinton White House.
27 May
Brian Stewart: The enduring power of Henry Kissinger
From an emergent China to Obama’s drones, Kissinger’s cold-eyed realism still a force to be reckoned with
These days, many of Kissinger’s admirers believe that one of his biggest contributions over the years was to force Americans to grow up and take a more sophisticated view of world — essentially to see it as a world that America can neither dominate as it once believed, nor withdraw from as it once hoped.
13 May
Benghazi Depositions To Examine Hillary Clinton’s Role In Response To Attacks
(HuffPost) In her last formal testimony as secretary of State, Clinton appeared before two congressional committees investigating the Benghazi attacks. She took responsibility for the department’s missteps and failures leading up to the assault, but said that requests for more security at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi didn’t reach her desk.
Pickering and Mullen’s blistering report found that “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of the State Department meant that security was “inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”
3 May
Dr. Charles Cogan: Out on a Presidential Limb
Perhaps out of logic, straightforwardness and/or a desire to meet the other halfway, President Obama appears to have a tendency to make commitments that later come back to bite him.
In the first instance, on Sept. 25, 2012, the president stated publicly that “containment is not an option” in the event that Iran did not renounce its development of nuclear weapons.
21 March
Barack Obama in Israel – A corker of a speech
(The Economist) … as this writer ascertained in unscientific polling— … the American president’s elegant, empathetic rhetoric brought tears, literally, to the eyes of many other Israelis who yearn for an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Just a speech, yes. But a corker of a speech.
Mr Obama scored with the Israeli public—and well beyond the confines of the hard-core “peace camp”—principally because he embraced in this speech the Israeli narrative of what has gone wrong in the peace process.
Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic: The speech was, overall, quite eloquent and strong, and very moving from the Jewish perspective …. It is the setting, though, that made it brilliant: Standing ovations from young Israelis for an endorsement of a Palestinian state by an enthusiastically Zionist African-American President whose middle name is Hussein. How, exactly, did he pull that one off?
15 March
Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay writes on The Iraq War Fiasco, Ten Years Later
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the decision by the Bush-Cheney administration to invade the country of Iraq and initiate what can be called a war of choice. This is a good time to briefly look back at this unsavory historical episode.
Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Americans now think the 2003 Iraq war, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans died, was a mistake. In the UK., the other country most involved with the Iraq war, a similar poll taken recently indicates that only 28 percent of Brits now believe the war was justified and made the world a safer place. (20 March)
15 March
Kerry Voices U.S. Support for NRA-opposed U.N. Arms Treaty
(Newsmax) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced his support on Friday for an international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global arms trade, but restated Washington’s “red line” that it will not accept limits on U.S. domestic gun ownership.
The U.N. General Assembly voted in December to hold a final round of negotiations from March 18 to 28 on what could become the first international treaty to regulate international weapons transfers after a drafting conference in July 2012 collapsed because the United States and others wanted more time.
6 March
Mohamed A. El-Erian: Transatlantic Trade’s Transformative Potential
(Project Syndicate) After instant and seemingly coordinated fanfare in Europe and the United States, the proposal for a European Union-US free-trade area has been generating little media attention. There are three reasons for this, and all three highlight broader constraints on good national economic policymaking and productive cross-border coordination. … despite the realization that an agreement could fundamentally alter the nature of global trade and production networks, it only took a few weeks for interest to drop off.
28 February
The United States Heads to the South China Sea
Michael T. Klare
(Foreign Affairs) In official statements, the United States claims to be a neutral observer in disputes over islands in the South and East China Seas. In fact, major U.S. energy firms have already partnered with Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Philippine state-owned oil companies to develop promising reserves in maritime territories claimed by those countries as well as China — and the United States appears intent on protecting those projects and other interests in the region with military might.
26 February
China Tests Japanese and U.S. Patience
(Stratfor) Though not mentioning China by name in his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama said, “We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems.” Obama’s comments, and the subsequent release of a new strategy on mitigating cybertheft of trade secrets, coincided with a series of reports highlighting China’s People’s Liberation Army backing for hacking activities in the United States, including a report by Mandiant that traced the activities to a specific People’s Liberation Army unit and facility.
14 February
Obama Administration Reveals Deep Divisions on Syria Policy
(IPS) – Though President Barack Obama has been reticent to involve his administration too deeply in the Syrian uprising, revelations over the past week have shown near-unanimous agreement among the president’s top national security advisors for greater military intervention.
8 February
OP-ED: Succeed or Fail? What Obama Must Do in the Middle East — Robert E. Hunter
(IPS) – 22 years after the Cold War ended, we must relearn how to “think strategically” about new circumstances and abandon reflexive, outdated approaches. We have become sclerotic in our methodology, while too many of our think tanks and “policy planning staffs” produce brilliant tactical suggestions but little strategic wisdom or “actionable” policy guidance.
Thus President Obama and his team must search for, engage, and listen to those Americans – some in relatively junior positions in the government, most outside – who know the Middle East and Southwest Asia region from one end to the other, who think strategically, who can make intelligent tradeoffs, and who can embed choices and decisions in U.S. domestic politics – which need to come second, not first.

Kerry underscores importance of U.S. role at UN
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently reiterated his support for the United Nations as integral to the “most serious work” of the country. “We have found that we are better able to actually protect against nefarious activity … if we’re participating [in the UN],” he said. The InterDependent (2/5)
Dr. Charles Cogan: Drones: What’s the Fuss About?
(HuffPost) .. in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, and now seemingly in West Africa, the drones have been a reliable source of intelligence and, equipped with missiles, a lethal and potentially accurate weapon. … Unquestionably, there have been a number of innocent people killed in drone attacks, either by proximity and/or mistake. But what is this in comparison to the land invasions and mass aerial bombings of the pre-drone era?
1 February
David T. Jones: It’s Minority Time at State
It is time for a minority as U.S. Secretary of State. A white male.
(The Metropolitain) … the State Department has not had a white male Secretary since Warren Christopher held the position from 1993-97 during the Clinton Administration.
24 January
Poll: Americans say U.S. support for the UN, its agencies is important
About 80% of Americans surveyed support an active U.S. presence at the United Nations, according to polling by the Better World Campaign. UN agencies received strong backing, too, including 92% approval for the World Health Organization. Among other findings, as Mark Leon Goldberg notes, is that most of the respondents opposed spending cutbacks on international health programs. Read the news release. UN Dispatch (1/16)

17 January
Al Qaeda Is Alive in Africa
Foreign Policy) A witches’ brew of Islamic jihadists is stirring up trouble across the continent. But is that America’s problem yet?
6 January
The Real Reason Republicans Hate Hagel
It has more to do with President Obama than the former senator from Nebraska.
(Slate) resisters have four main concerns. They fear that Hagel will cut the military budget. They fear that he’ll roll over if Iran builds a nuclear weapon. They fear that he’s too reluctant to use military force generally. And they fear he doesn’t much like Israel; the extremists on this point claim he’s anti-Semitic.
MJ Rosenberg: Choosing Hagel sends an important message
US interests are being damaged by Israel’s current shift to the extreme Right, so why not nominate Chuck Hagel?
(Al Jazeera) Thus far, President Barack Obama is sitting out the January 22 Israeli elections. There is no indication about who he hopes to see as the next Israeli prime minister. … One reason for Obama’s apparent indifference may be that there is almost no possibility that Netanyahu will not be the next prime minister. The only question is whether Netanyahu’s next government will be as far right (and pro-settlement expansion) as his current government or much farther to the right.
… Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Likud-Beytenu coalition is being challenged by a new party to its right, the Jewish Home party. The Jewish Home party is led by 40-year-old Naftali Bennett who is running on an openly annexationist platform, in contrast to Netanyahu and Lieberman who, although also expansionist, occasionally pay lip service to the idea of reaching a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.

One Comment on "U.S. Foreign Relations in 2013 – 2014"

  1. SK November 15, 2014 at 5:10 pm · Reply

    Obama ran for election on the promise that the U.S. would not try to rule the world alone, and I really thought that made so much sense. But in most instances, and as the article has pointed out, that has not been the case. Hence the U.S. is roundly and perhaps justly pilloried for its actions in some cases, non-action in others.
    Had Obama followed through on his original goals, the U.S. would not now be standing alone as the whipping boy in various regions. There would have been international consensus on what are now regarded as solely American initiatives, and the initiatives themselves may have been very different but acceptable generally to the international community and those directly affected by them. Perhaps Obama couldn’t sell his ideas of international partnerships to the military-industrial complex. SK

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