U.S. International relations and foreign policy June 2023-

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The Global Stakes for Human Rights in America’s Election
American leadership impacts human rights globally through the hard power of institutional leadership and the soft power of example — a fact underscored by the contrast on human rights between Joe Biden’s presidency and that of his predecessor. Executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Kyle Matthews brings his expertise to the question of ‘What if?’
(Policy) In an ever-interconnected world, the political choices made by the United States reverberate far beyond its borders. As discussions about a potential re-election bid by former President Donald Trump emerge, …it’s crucial to assess the possible implications for human rights on a global scale. Trump’s past actions and decisions…raise concerns about the future of human rights and stability worldwide. Particularly worrisome is the context of rising authoritarian alliances, where the US’s role as a powerful democracy is essential in countering the threat posed by countries such as China and Russia. (24 August 2023)

21 February
Ross Douthat: What the Ukraine Aid Debate Is Really About
Over the weekend Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio went to the Munich Security Conference to play an unpopular part — a spokesman, at a gathering of the Western foreign policy establishment, for the populist critique of American support for Ukraine’s war effort.
The case Vance pressed in Munich is more consistent, and its premises — not isolationist but Asia-first, more concerned about the Taiwan Strait than the Donbas — have supplied the common ground for Republican critics of our Ukraine policy since early in the war. But consistency is not the same as correctness, and it’s worth looking for a moment at why this kind of argument makes Ukraine hawks so frustrated.

11 February
GOP senators defy Trump by advancing foreign aid bill
The vote was a decisive 67-27.
(Politico) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stumped for further aid in his Sunday floor speech, refusing to back away from his adamant support for foreign aid, particularly Ukraine, that’s highlighted a growing divide within his conference.
Ukraine-Israel Aid Bill Clears Critical Hurdle in the Senate
(NYT) The bipartisan vote to advance the measure put it on track for passage, but its fate in the House remains uncertain amid stiff G.O.P. opposition, egged on by former President Donald J. Trump.
Sunday’s action amounted to a repudiation of Mr. Trump’s stance by Democrats and a determined bloc of Republicans, led by Mr. McConnell, who have maintained that it is imperative that the United States continue to come to Ukraine’s aid militarily to send a signal to the rest of the world’s dictators.

29 January
Why “the Rest” Are Rejecting the West
Fawaz A. Gerges, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, author of the forthcoming What Really Went Wrong: The West and the Failure of Democracy in the Middle East
US President Joe Biden’s declaration that “America is back” has taken on new meaning since the start of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. In the Middle East and much of the Global South, he will be remembered as just another American leader whose actions betray a lack of concern for Arab lives.
(Project Syndicate) Since Hamas’s brutal attack on October 7 – which exposed the folly of Biden and Netanyahu’s approach – there has been neither restraint nor an effort to think through the consequences of the current war. Instead, Biden and his European allies have wholeheartedly endorsed Israel’s all-out assault on Gaza. Even as the civilian death toll has risen at an unprecedented pace, the humanitarian crisis grows more acute by the day, and governments around the world have called for a ceasefire, Biden has shown no willingness to intervene to stop the bloodshed. Meanwhile, skirmishes on the Israel-Lebanon border and US-led airstrikes on Houthi positions in Yemen and on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq suggest that the conflict may yet escalate further. America and Britain are gradually being sucked into the region yet again, though with eyes wide open this time. Biden claimed to represent a clean break from Trump, but there is no daylight between them when it comes to the Middle East. There and in much of the Global South, Biden will be remembered as just another American president who devalued Arab lives, preaching democracy while supporting repression and violence. Biden may soon regret his wholehearted embrace of Netanyahu in recent months. Netanyahu, an expert at manipulating the American political process, recently rebuffed Biden’s support for establishing a Palestinian state, insisting that Israel must have security control “over all the territory west of the Jordan [River.]” That pronouncement was timed to the start of the US presidential campaign, in which Trump is his preferred candidate.
Even if Biden ultimately secures a second term, the tragic irony is that the Middle East is less stable today than at any point in its modern history. The West’s strategy has been a colossal failure, and this legacy will burden our world for a very long time.

29 January-2 February
U.S. Conducts Strikes in Iraq and Syria Against Iran’s Forces and Proxies
More than 85 targets were hit in retaliatory strikes at three sites in Iraq and four in Syria, U.S. officials said, in an escalation of hostilities in the Middle East.
(NYT) In the hours before the United States carried out strikes against Iran-backed militants on Friday, Washington hit Tehran with more familiar weapons: sanctions and criminal charges.
The Biden administration sanctioned officers and officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s premier military force, for threatening the integrity of water utilities and for helping manufacture Iranian drones. And it unsealed charges against nine people for selling oil to finance the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
Bret Stephens: Attacking Iran’s Proxies Won’t Do the Job
Now that the Pentagon has launched strikes against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, much of the news media will be sure to describe it as retaliation for a Jan. 28 drone attack on a remote U.S. military base in Jordan, which killed three American service members and injured another 34.
True — but not the whole truth.
since October alone, there have been some 160 attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria, forces that are in the region principally to fight ISIS, one enemy that Iran and the U.S. have in common. In October, a drone loaded with explosives hit a U.S. barracks in Iraq. Major casualties were averted only because the explosives failed to detonate. …
This is to say nothing of direct attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen on U.S. Navy ships protecting sea lanes in the Red Sea.
The Biden administration has responded to some of these previous attacks with precision strikes — attempting to send a message to Tehran while hoping to avoid escalation. It hasn’t worked. To adapt an adage attributed to Leon Trotsky, we may not be interested in making war on Iran, but Iran is interested in making war on us.
Biden’s Options Range From Unsatisfying to Risky After American Deaths
President Biden is balancing political pressures, military calculations and regional fragility after a drone strike killed three service members.
(NYT) Even before the drone strike that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan on Sunday, the Biden administration was planning for a moment just like this, debating how it might strike back in ways that would deter Iran’s proxy forces and send a message that Tehran would not miss.

19 January
Ross Douthat: Why Nikki Haley Could Be the Most Dangerous President
(NYT) … In this environment, the ideal president is a Nixon or an Eisenhower — a realist and a careful balancer, not a dove or an isolationist but also not a bellicose idealist. And our gravest danger right now is probably not the one invoked by critics of Haley’s who imagine an America abandoning its allies, handing the world to dictators, beating a cowardly retreat.
Rather, the greater peril is an American establishment and an American president who overestimate our powers, commit ourselves too broadly and too thinly, and end up facing a series of outright military debacles and defeats.

11 January
US, allies attack Houthi targets in Yemen in response to missile barrages in the Red Sea
Washington has been under intensifying pressure to respond to the attacks, which have repeatedly drawn in American warships.
(Politico) The joint assault, which involved U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines, came after the Houthis ignored weeks of warnings by Washington and its allies to stop their attacks on vessels in the commercially important waterway. The U.S. and the U.K., with support from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Bahrain, conducted the strikes.
The strikes targeted radar systems, as well as storage and launch sites for drones, cruise and ballistic missiles across “a large area of Yemen,” according to a Defense Department official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the operation ahead of the announcement. The targets were chosen “to degrade the Houthi ability to continue endangering mariners in the Red Sea.” No civilians were assessed to be present at the sites, the official said.

2023

19 December
A border deal can save Ukraine, aid Israel and Taiwan, and help Biden
Jennifer Rubin
(WaPo) Ukraine is in dire straits. …
The United States needs to signal to enemies that we stand by stalwart allies, including Israel and Taiwan. And House Republicans threaten to deny them all, handing despots and terrorists victories, in refusing to move ahead on the supplemental spending bill.
President Biden has faced down intransigent, radical MAGA Republicans before on everything from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the debt ceiling. He can do so again — not by capitulating to the MAGA extremists’ unworkable immigration proposals but by working on a bipartisan deal with everyone else.
To be certain, the MAGA proposals are unacceptable. Politico reported: “Their latest offer would ban the administration’s ability to extend parole for migrants — a policy change that would also apply to Afghans and Ukrainians who have been authorized to live in the U.S. for humanitarian reasons.”

16 December
Biden’s support of Israel could come at a cost to U.S. foreign policy
America’s partners and allies are increasingly frustrated that the United States isn’t using enough leverage to protect Palestinian lives
(WaPo) Now, there is acknowledgment within Biden’s administration that his unwavering support for Israel’s right to destroy Hamas — even as he acknowledges Israeli excesses and presses the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be more protective of innocent Palestinian lives — could impose a price on the president’s standing at home and abroad.
– The most obvious isolation is in international forums such as the United Nations, where the United States has been virtually alone in opposing Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. This week, as the 193-member General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a similar measure, the administration was joined by just nine other countries — including only Czechia among NATO members — in voting no.
It is not just friendly foreign partners who are urging the Biden administration to do more. Some White House, State Department and U.S. aid officials have now gone public with their objections to Biden’s unwavering support for Israel, arguing that the Gaza conflict could have larger ramifications for U.S. leadership.
In its efforts to woo the Global South away from Moscow and China, Washington has called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a colonial war of aggression. Yet for many, Israel’s war on Gaza looks virtually the same.

9 December
Biden’s arming of Israel faces backlash as Gaza’s civilian toll grows
Critics, including fellow Democrats, say the administration must do more to ensure proper use of U.S. weapons
(WaPo) Rights groups, along with a growing bloc from within President Biden’s Democratic Party, are intensifying scrutiny of the arms flow to Israel that has included tens of thousands of bombs since Hamas militants’ bloody attacks of Oct. 7. Local authorities say that at least 17,700 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in Israel’s operation to dismantle the Palestinian group.
At the heart of the debate, as Biden seeks billions of dollars in additional military aid for Israel’s Gaza operation, are the administration’s own rules for arming foreign nations, which indicate weapons transfers must not take place when the U.S. government assesses that violations of international law are “more likely than not” to occur.

30 November
Henry Kissinger, dominant US diplomat of Cold War era, dies aged 100
(Reuters) – Henry Kissinger, the most powerful U.S. diplomat of the Cold War era, who helped Washington open up to China, forge arms control deals with the Soviet Union and end the Vietnam War, but who was reviled by critics over human rights, has died aged 100.
Kissinger, a German-born Jewish refugee whose career took him from academia to diplomacy and who remained an active voice in foreign policy into his later years, died at his home in Connecticut on Wednesday.
Why many of us do not mourn HK
Henry Kissinger, the Hypocrite
By Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser
(NYT) Henry Kissinger, who died on Wednesday, exemplified the gap between the story that America, the superpower, tells and the way that we can act in the world. At turns opportunistic and reactive, his was a foreign policy enamored with the exercise of power and drained of concern for the human beings left in its wake.
Latin America remembers Kissinger’s ‘profound moral wretchedness’
US statesman’s encouragement of Pinochet’s coup in Chile and his backing for Argentina’s military dictatorship left lasting stain

28 November
David Ignatius: Hostage negotiators in Qatar build momentum behind ‘more for more’
The Israeli-Hamas hostage-release negotiations continue to roll forward, as American and Israeli spy chiefs met Tuesday with a Qatari mediator and discussed a plan for eventual release of all Israelis held captive in Gaza, including soldiers.
The “more for more” logic that has guided the hostage talks so far remains strong for both Israel and Hamas, according to a source close to the negotiations. He explained that although no final commitments have been made, “there is a willingness on both sides” to make a broad deal that would free all Israeli captives in exchange for longer pauses in fighting, release of more Palestinian prisoners and more humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in Gaza.
CIA director pushes big hostage deal in secret meeting with Mossad chief
The meeting in Qatar comes as William Burns takes on a central role navigating the crisis for President Biden
(WaPo) CIA Director William J. Burns arrived in Qatar on Tuesday for secret meetings with Israel’s spy chief and Qatar’s prime minister aimed at brokering an expansive deal between Israel and Hamas, said three people familiar with the visit.
Burns is pushing for Hamas and Israel to broaden the focus of their ongoing hostage negotiations, thus far limited to women and children, to encompass the release of men and military personnel, too.
He is also seeking a longer multi-day pause in fighting while taking into account the Israeli demand that Hamas release at least 10 people for every day there is a break in the war.

24 November
Remarks by President Biden on the Release of Hostages from Gaza
As we look to the future, we have to end this cycle of violence in the Middle East.
We need to renew our resolve to pursue this two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can one day live side by side in a two-state solution with equal measure of freedom and dignity.
Two states for two peoples. And it’s more important now than ever.
Hamas unleashed this terrorist attack because they fear nothing more than Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace.
You know, to continue down the path of terror and violence and killing and war is to give Hamas what they seek. And we can’t do that.
So, today, let’s continue to be thankful for all the families who are now and those who will soon be brought together again.
And I want to once again thank the Emir of Qatar, President Sisi of Egypt, and Prime Minister Netanyahu for their partnership to make what we’ve done so far possible and for their continued leadership as we all keep working to implement this deal.
And over the coming days, I’ll remain engaged with leaders throughout the Middle East as we all work together to build a better future for the region — a future where this kind of violence is unthinkable; a future where all children in the region — every child — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab — grow up knowing only peace. That’s what we do.

22 November
The secret negotiations that led to the Gaza hostages deal
Steve Holland
(Reuters) – Shortly after Hamas militants took hostages during their deadly assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7, the government of Qatar contacted the White House with a request: Form a small team of advisers to help work to get the captives freed.
That work, begun in the days after the hostages were taken, finally bore fruit with the announcement of a prisoner swap deal mediated by Qatar and Egypt and agreed by Israel, Hamas and the United States.
The secretive effort included tense personal diplomatic engagement by U.S. President Joe Biden, who held a number of urgent conversations with emir of Qatar and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the weeks leading up to the deal.
It also involved hours of painstaking negotiations including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, CIA Director Bill Burns, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy Jon Finer, and U.S. Middle East envoy Brett McGurk, among others.

21 November
The post-October 7 US strategy in the Middle East is coming into focus
Daniel E. Mouton, nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative
(Atlantic Council) The most recent window into the administration’s thinking was White House Coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk’s address at the Manama Dialogue 2023 in Bahrain on Saturday. The second window was President Joe Biden’s Washington Post editorial, “The US won’t back down from the challenge of Putin and Hamas.” …
The clarity in what Biden and McGurk presented in recent days came from the consistency of language, which traces a path from Biden’s 2022 meetings in Saudi Arabia with the leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council. They follow the five guiding principles that McGurk presented as a “Biden doctrine” for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council in February: partnerships, deterrence, diplomacy, integration, and values.

13-16 November
Biden to stress APEC economic ties, as trade deal stumbles
(Reuters) – President Joe Biden will highlight strong U.S. ties to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum economies on Thursday, despite a failure to make progress on key trade provisions sought by regional countries.
Biden…is due to address a summit of CEOs on Thursday before speaking to leaders from the 21-member APEC gathered in San Francisco for the organization’s annual summit.
Biden will also take part in an event with the 14-member Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) that his administration established to bolster economic engagement after former President Donald Trump quit a long-negotiated regional trade pact in 2017.
U.S. hopes for an IPEF trade deal were dashed this week, after members could not agree on improving labor and environmental standards or compliance, people briefed on the talks said.
In remarks to APEC leaders, Biden will highlight U.S. progress to combat climate change, call for collective APEC action, and “demonstrate this administration’s commitment to deepening economic engagement with the region,” a senior U.S. official told journalists.
U.S. exports to the region have grown 12%, 60% of U.S. exports are sent to a fellow APEC economy, and APEC members have invested $1.7 trillion into the U.S. economy since 2016, the official said.
IPEF fallout looms over trade summit
(Politico)  Indo-Pacific Economic Framework countries are unlikely to finalize any trade provisions during this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco amid domestic pushback from the Democratic chair of the Senate Banking Committee.
For months, the administration has been planning to unveil the details of its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework at the APEC summit this week in the Golden City. That would show China that its regional neighbors are aligning with the U.S. on new rules for supply chains, sustainability, anti-corruption measures and trade.
That last part — the trade pillar — has been the most challenging. The administration called IPEF members to California for last-minute negotiations, scrambling to finalize some legally binding trade rules ahead of the summit this week. The rest is basically done.
But now, domestic political concerns — not foreign trading partners — are threatening those talks. Last week, Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), facing a tough reelection campaign next year, called on the administration to drop the trade pillar altogether. Other Democrats like Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) soon followed.
Now, it appears unlikely there will be any finalized trade provisions announced this week at all, two sources with knowledge of the talks said on Sunday.
The reason? Brown’s statement has stirred a deep anxiety in the administration and Democrats in Washington that Republicans will paint IPEF as a job-outsourcing global trade deal — as they did in 2016 with the Trans-Pacific Partnership — even though Biden’s IPEF package is considerably less ambitious and does not touch on tariffs or market access issues.

14 November
Joe Biden’s Middle East Mess
The Biden administration thought it could ignore the bad in the Middle East. Now his Middle East doctrine is collapsing.
By Gregg Carlstrom, Middle East correspondent for the Economist and author of How Long Will Israel Survive? The Threat From Within.
(Politico) Outside of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a club of stable petro-monarchies, the region is an arc of failed or failing states. Four countries are mired in civil war. Egypt, the most populous Arab country, is teetering on the brink of default, while Lebanon is enduring one of the worst economic crises in modern history. The list of calamities goes on, and the Middle East only looks quiet if one ignores it. But that is exactly what the Biden administration has tried to do.
American officials have struggled to articulate a “Biden doctrine” in the region, but [White House national security advisor Jake] Sullivan came closest in his September speech: “We want to depressurize, deescalate and ultimately integrate the Middle East region,” he said. To do that the administration relied on three strands of policy: promote Arab-Israeli normalization, pursue diplomacy with Iran and push efforts at economic integration. These strands were meant to reinforce one another. They would ease the tensions of the Trump years, forge a new security alliance in the region and lock everyone in a virtuous circle of stability and growth.

11 November
U.S. is warned about its global standing as Gaza suffering persists
Arab leaders have admonished Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying Washington will be deemed complicit for civilian collateral in Israel’s unrestrained pursuit of Hamas
(WaPo) A month into the Gaza war, President Biden’s steadfast support for Israeli leaders, even as the Palestinian civilian death toll mounts, risks lasting damage to Washington’s standing in the region and beyond, Arab leaders and analysts say, warning that the perceived U.S. acceptance of attacks on refugee camps, hospitals and apartment buildings could shatter American influence for years to come.
Anger over the campaign’s enormous civilian collateral is increasingly directed at the United States, not just at Israel, and has been a constant source of friction throughout Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s travels in the Middle East and Asia over the past week. Prime ministers and diplomats have admonished him over Israeli actions, with many charging that the attacks are facilitated by U.S. weaponry and that efforts to push for “humanitarian pauses” rather than an enduring cease-fire is a formula for continued violence against noncombatants.

7 November
US says doesn’t support Israeli occupation of Gaza after war
National Security Council spokesperson says US President Joe Biden believes a ‘reoccupation by Israeli forces of Gaza is not the the right thing to do’.

6 November
U.S. diplomats slam Israel policy in leaked memo
The document offers a window into internal fury at the State Department over President Joe Biden’s Middle East policies.
(Politico) The memo has two key requests: that the U.S. support a ceasefire, and that it balance its private and public messaging toward Israel, including airing criticisms of Israeli military tactics and treatment of Palestinians that the U.S. generally prefers to keep private.
The gap between America’s private and public messaging “contributes to regional public perceptions that the United States is a biased and dishonest actor, which at best does not advance, and at worst harms, U.S. interests worldwide,” the document states.

5 November
Few reasons for optimism after Antony Blinken’s diplomatic dash
(BBC) For three days, the US’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, has been dashing around the Middle East, trying to contain a situation that threatens to spin out of control.
Israel on Friday. Jordan on Saturday. The West Bank, Iraq and Turkey on Sunday.
Every stop posed its own challenges and gave reason to be pessimistic that much progress is being made. The central challenge facing the US secretary of state is that he is trying to find a middle ground where none, at the moment, exists.
As if to underscore the tension in the region, Mr Blinken’s Sunday stops were done under cover of secrecy. He travelled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a convoy of armoured SUVs and vans, speeding through streets cordoned off by soldiers from the Palestinian Palace Guard.
He arrived in Iraq under cover of darkness. The secretary and his diplomatic entourage donned body armour and helmets for the short helicopter ride from the Baghdad airport to the US embassy, where he then motorcaded to a meeting with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani.

Palestinian Authority should play key role in a future Gaza, says Antony Blinken
US’s top diplomat discusses efforts to restore calm in West Bank with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian Authority should play key role in a future Gaza, says Antony Blinken
(The Guardian) As Washington, the international community and Israel have struggled to articulate what would happen on the “day after” – should Israel succeed in topping Hamas – the comments, relayed by a senior State Department official on Sunday, were the clearest indication yet of US thinking.

4 November
Obama Urges Americans to Take in ‘Whole Truth’ of Israel-Gaza War
“What Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it,” former President Barack Obama said on Friday. “And what is also true is that the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”
(NYT) The former president said everyone was “complicit to some degree” in the current bloodshed and acknowledged the points of view on both sides of the conflict.
Barack Obama offered a complex analysis of the conflict between Israel and Gaza, telling thousands of former aides that they were all “complicit to some degree” in the current bloodshed.
“I look at this, and I think back, ‘What could I have done during my presidency to move this forward, as hard as I tried?’” he said in an interview conducted by his former staffers for their podcast, Pod Save America. “But there’s a part of me that’s still saying, ‘Well, was there something else I could have done?’”
Mr. Obama acknowledged the strong emotions the war had raised, saying that “this is century-old stuff that’s coming to the fore.” He blamed social media for amplifying the divisions and reducing a thorny international dispute to what he viewed as sloganeering.
Yet he urged his former aides to “take in the whole truth,” seemingly attempting to strike a balance between the killings on both sides.
“What Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it,” Mr. Obama said. “And what is also true is that the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”

30-31 October
Antony Blinken: Defending Israel is essential. So is aiding civilians in Gaza.
(WaPo) President Biden has consistently affirmed Israel’s right — indeed, its obligation — to defend itself and prevent Hamas from carrying out such an attack ever again.
The president has made clear that the United States will ensure Israel has what it needs to defend its people against all threats, including from Iran and its proxy groups. The security assistance in our supplemental request will allow us to deliver on that commitment.
At the same time, the way Israel defends itself matters.
Palestinian civilians are not to blame for Hamas’s atrocities or for the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They are its victims. As with civilians in any conflict, the lives of Palestinian civilians must be protected.
That means the flow of food, water, medicine, fuel and other essential humanitarian aid into Gaza must increase — immediately and significantly. It means Palestinian civilians must be able to stay out of harm’s way. It means every possible precaution must be taken to safeguard humanitarian sites. And it means humanitarian pauses must be considered for these purposes.
Abiding by these standards is difficult in any conflict, much less when confronting an enemy that cynically and monstrously uses civilians as human shields and launches rockets from hospitals, schools and residential buildings.
Despite these challenges, preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is vital to Israel’s security.
Without swift and sustained humanitarian relief, the conflict is much more likely to spread, suffering will grow, and Hamas and its sponsors will benefit by fashioning themselves as saviors amid the very desperation they created. And the deepening crisis will undermine the possibility of further integration between Israel and its neighbors.
Providing immediate aid and protection for Palestinian civilians in the conflict is also a necessary foundation for finding partners in Gaza who have a different vision for the future than Hamas — and who are willing to help make it real.

Biden’s Support for Israel Now Comes With Words of Caution
The administration has become more critical of Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks, a shift that U.S. officials attribute to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

26 October
Biden’s efforts to constrain Israel could backfire
By Jason Willick
(WaPo) …the impulse to constrain our closest Middle East ally is driven by a wishful reading of the region and Israeli politics. It’s anyone’s guess how this war will end. But if Washington ties Israel’s hands too tightly, it is more likely to end with a wounded and threatened but still powerful Jewish state — leaving the region more imbalanced than it was before.
… if U.S. officials signal too much fear of Israeli escalation, Iran or its proxies could sense weakness and step up attacks on Israel or U.S. interests in the region. The obligatory U.S. military reprisals against such attacks might not be as destabilizing as the Biden administration seems to fear. They would align the United States with the interests of Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that want to check Iran’s power in the Middle East. That could help stabilize the United States’ regional alliance structure, even as it comes under stress from Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
… if U.S. officials signal too much fear of Israeli escalation, Iran or its proxies could sense weakness and step up attacks on Israel or U.S. interests in the region. The obligatory U.S. military reprisals against such attacks might not be as destabilizing as the Biden administration seems to fear. They would align the United States with the interests of Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that want to check Iran’s power in the Middle East. That could help stabilize the United States’ regional alliance structure, even as it comes under stress from Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

23 October
Israel-Hamas war: Biden’s second foreign policy crisis
Ian Bremmer’s Quick Take: We are now two weeks into an Israel war in Gaza against Hamas. …this is the second serious global foreign policy crisis that we have seen during the Biden administration. And there are some very interesting comparisons and contrasts with them.
I guess one interesting comparison is that in both cases, President Biden is providing an enormous amount of public support and alignment with a leader that he does not really like or trust. In the case of Ukraine, not an ally, though a country that the United States has been aligned with, hasn’t paid a lot of attention to it. And Zelensky himself, someone that Biden really did not feel had experienced to run the country, was presumptuous about, you know, sort of his need to be in to NATO and the Americans not doing enough for him and not listening to US intelligence in the run up to the war. Suddenly the Russians invade and Biden feels no choice, along with American allies, to be out there publicly and strongly supporting him, supporting democracy against an illegal and unprecedented Russian invasion.
In the case of Netanyahu, this is of course, the most important ally of the United States in the Middle East, has been for a very long time. But Biden does not support or like Netanyahu personally much at all. The farthest right wing coalition that Israel has had since independence, expanding their illegal settlements in the West Bank. Biden didn’t want to even meet with him in person for a while. It was challenging to get a meeting set up on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly for example. Even though Biden wants to have a very strong, committed relationship with Israel, very different from the present government.

8 October
Murphy Calls for Swift Confirmation of Key State Department Officials in the Middle East
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Sunday released the following statement:
“The scenes in Israel are devastating beyond comprehension, and I fear the situation is only going to get worse in the coming days and weeks. This is an all hands on deck moment in history, and the administration needs a Senate-confirmed American diplomat present in every capital in the region as soon as possible. Right now, we don’t have a U.S. Ambassador in place in Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, or Kuwait. USAID hasn’t had an Assistant Administrator for the Middle East for nearly three years – a role that will be essential to the deployment of emergency economic and humanitarian aid in response to this crisis. The State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism – which leads the Department’s efforts to defeat terrorism abroad – has been awaiting confirmation for nearly two years.
“Now is not the time for politics. The Senate should confirm those awaiting votes the day we are back in session, and immediately schedule committee hearings to expedite confirmation of the remainder. Democrats and Republicans must work together to support our ally Israel.”
The nominees for U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Oman, Kuwait and the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism await a vote on the Senate floor. The nominees for U.S. Ambassadors to Israel and Egypt, and the USAID Assistant Administrator for the Middle East await committee hearings.

17 September
Biden is meeting with leaders from Israel, Brazil, Ukraine and the ‘Stans’ this week
(NPR) President Biden will be the first U.S. president to meet together with leaders from five Central Asian nations sometimes called the “Stans” — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — when he gathers with them next week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
The meeting with the former Soviet states on Tuesday is likely to be closely watched by Russia and China. Biden plans to discuss regional security issues with the leaders, as well as trade, climate and governance issues, said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser.

15 September
Biden claims ‘America’s back.’ The world isn’t convinced.
(Politico) At the G20 meetings last week, the president debuted his administration’s new charm offensive for the developing world — a promise to invest in the economic development of 70 nations, concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere, with high poverty and debt burdens.
It’s a campaign that makes few headlines stateside, but has huge implications for U.S. trade relations and Washington’s economic competition with Beijing. Biden will need to increase trade with many developing nations to secure the materials and components for his clean energy manufacturing agenda. And his team is desperate to stop those countries from falling further into China’s orbit after decades of neglect from the U.S.
“The U.S. government for many years has not really had a sustained focus [on developing nations],” said Peter Harrell, who served on Biden’s national security council until last fall. “Over the last six months in particular, you’ve seen a really concerted push by the administration to expand its outreach.”
At the G20, the administration announced plans to reform the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other Western development institutions so they can unlock hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for infrastructure projects around the world. That, they hope, will lead more nations to side with the U.S. in everyday trade and in times of crisis — like a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
The investment-first strategy marks a dramatic shift from decades of U.S. economic policy that focused on removing tariffs and other trade barriers in hopes that private U.S. companies would rush in and industrialize poorer nations. Biden’s team says that agenda has run its course.

8 September
‘Bidenomics’ is going global. The world is skeptical.
At the G20 meeting, the administration will unveil its plans to counter growing Chinese influence with a new approach to economic development that prioritizes climate action and inclusive growth. But countries burned by decades of Western-imposed austerity aren’t convinced.
(Politico) Biden’s trip to the G20 meetings in New Delhi marks the most concerted effort by the United States in decades to win the favor of so-called developing nations — more than 70 countries, concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere, with high debt burdens and poverty levels.
Those nations, long neglected by Washington, are critical to Biden’s economic agenda. He’ll need to increase trade with many of them — from Bolivia to Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — to secure the raw materials and components needed for his domestic manufacturing renaissance. And he will need their buy-in for his campaign to rewrite the rules of the global economy to encourage fair trade between democracies, and penalize China’s state-led industries.

In blow to China, US secures closer partnership with Vietnam
(GZERO) On his way back from the G20 meeting in India, US President Joe Biden will stop off in Vietnam on Sept. 10 to seal an agreement to deepen US ties with the Southeast Asian country. The two former enemies will upgrade their bilateral relationship from a “comprehensive partnership” to a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” the highest level in Vietnam’s diplomatic hierarchy. This new top-tier diplomatic status places the US on par with China, Russia, India, and South Korea….
Eurasia Group expert Peter Mumford explains the motivations behind the deal for both sides.
Vietnam has long had very complicated relations with China, its giant northern neighbor. The two have close (and deepening) economic ties. Yet the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 and ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea have fueled widespread anti-China sentiment among Vietnam’s population. Strengthening relations with the US, Japan, and other players are crucial to Hanoi’s geopolitical hedging strategy as well its (unsuccessful, so far) attempts to reduce its economic dependence on China.
In addition, Vietnam has long seen its ally Russia as a counterbalance to China, but Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has made it a less reliable partner and, more importantly, pushed it closer to Beijing. This increases the need for Vietnam to find other ways to hedge its China risk.

7 September
Russian ally snubs Putin: Suddenly turns to US
(MSN) The joint exercise, aptly named “Eagle Partner 2023,” aims to prepare Armenian forces for participation in international peacekeeping missions. The event, spanning from September 11 to 20, will involve 85 US soldiers and 175 Armenian troops. This collaboration is particularly noteworthy given Armenia’s deep-rooted ties with Russia, stemming from its history as part of the Soviet Union and its current involvement in various Russia-led international consortiums. Furthermore, Armenia is home to a Russian military base.

Heather Cox Richardson August 17, 2023
Philip Stephens of Financial Times today pointed out how much global politics has changed since 2016. …just seven years later, international cooperation is evident everywhere. Stephens pointed out that a series of crises have shown that nations cannot work alone.
That embrace of cooperation is in no small part thanks to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who have focused on bringing together international coalitions.
The new global stance is on display in the U.S. right now as President Biden hosts the first-ever trilateral summit with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea. This is not an easy meeting—Japan and South Korea have a long history of conflict—but they are working to mend fences* to stand firm against North Korea, including its missile tests, and to present a united front in the face of Chinese power.
Secretary Blinken noted for reporters on Tuesday that the world is currently being tested by geopolitical competition, climate change, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and nuclear aggressions. “Our heightened engagement is part of our broader efforts to revitalize, to strengthen, to knit together our alliances and partnerships—and in this case, to help realize a shared vision of an Indo-Pacific that is free and open, prosperous, secure, resilient, and connected,” he said. “And what we mean by that is a region where countries are free to chart their own path and to find their own partners, where problems are dealt with openly, where rules are reached transparently and applied fairly, and where goods, ideas, and people can flow lawfully and freely.”

4 August
Biden’s missing Latin America agenda
— The Biden administration is promising a revamped approach to its long dormant Latin American trade agenda. But even its allies remain skeptical.
Biden’s diplomatic team has spent most of his first term trying to rebuild alliances in Europe and Asia stressed by former President Donald Trump’s brash nationalism. They have only recently started to turn their attention to Latin America, but lawmakers and corporate officials alike say those efforts are scant — and their patience is starting to wear thin.
“I struggle to see what this administration is doing in Latin America that has any heft to it,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D. Va.) said.
Kaine’s comments came during a contentious Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last month, where he and other lawmakers grilled representatives from the State and Treasury Departments on why the administration has been, in their words, ignoring Latin America.
The administration says it has a plan. Last year it announced the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity — a broad forum for discussing supply chains, sustainability, anti-corruption and other economic issues. State Department Under Secretary Jose Fernandez said focusing on those issues will help U.S. trading partners more than the traditional model of trade agreements focused on cutting tariffs and expanding market access.
“Tariffs [are] not what’s keeping Latin America from growing. If tariffs were all that it took, this wouldn’t be an issue,” he told lawmakers. “It’s about corruption, lack of transparency, lack of infrastructure, health frameworks that don’t work, government instability — those are the things we’re trying to look at in APEP.
But critics say APEP today is little more than those initial talking points, with firms frustrated with the lack of any opportunity to file comments with the U.S. government outlining their hopes for the proposed agreement.

28 July
Senate confirms slate of State Department nominees as Tuberville’s military hold remains
(CNN) The Senate confirmed a slate of high-profile State Department nominees late Thursday night, including ambassadors to Italy, Jordan, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates, Niger, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
The confirmations came after Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told CNN earlier in the evening that he was close to a deal with the State Department to release holds on nominees in exchange for records on the origins of COVID.
Letters from an American
But FitzGibbon did not arrive in Niger before the U.S. government on Wednesday ordered “non-emergency U.S. government personnel” and their families to leave the country out of concerns for their safety.
The attack on our nation by individual Republicans seems to be a theme these days.
20 July
Senate Foreign Relations chairman criticizes Sen. Rand Paul for holding up nominations
Rand Paul, R-Ky., has blocked State Department nominees as he seeks more information about Covid-19’s origins.
Menendez, D-N.J., said Paul’s move “puts our country’s national security and global influence in peril.”
“I call on the members of this body engaged in blanket refusals to confirm nominees to stop playing games with our national security. It only undermines our national security and our ability to compete with the PRC,” Menendez said in the statement, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.
17 July
Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press
Earlier today, I sent a letter to all members of the Senate expressing my serious concern regarding the significant delays in confirming State Department nominees. As I made clear in the letter, these delays are undermining our national security and they are weakening our ability to deliver for the American people.
At present, the State Department has more than 60 nominees with the Senate. Thirty-eight have completed all the other steps and are on the Senate floor awaiting confirmation. Of those 38, 35 are career Foreign Service officers.
Now, that number is going to keep going up, as more sitting ambassadors complete their tours, more nominees come forward. By the end of the summer, we expect Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon will all be without confirmed U.S. ambassadors. Eight nominees are awaiting confirmation for posts in African countries. And it’s not just the Middle East and Africa where we’ve got this problem: Ambassadorships are open in Asia, in Europe, in Latin America, as nominees await confirmation. So are key issue-focused positions, like, for example, our counterterrorism coordinator.
During the current Congress, only five nominees have been confirmed.

Biden Invites Netanyahu to U.S., Easing Tensions
The invitation to the Israeli prime minister came on the eve of a visit to the White House by Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president.
President Biden on Monday invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to a meeting in the United States for the first time since Mr. Netanyahu re-entered office in December, easing months of tensions about the direction of Israel’s government.

14 July
Fareed Zakaria: The old consensus on U.S. foreign policy is dead
… Having spoken to Biden before, I would say that central to his worldview is the belief that the world today is being shaped by challenges from autocratic states — Russia, China, Iran, North Korea — and that the future will hinge on how the democracies respond to these challenges. Like anyone who wants to be president, Biden has a healthy ego, and he has wanted the job since he was a young man, but I think it’s fair to say he is also driven by a sense that the future of the international order is on the line.
The stakes are high — and they are made much higher by the fact that, for the first time since the World War II era, the basic issue of America’s engagement with the world is becoming a partisan issue. …
As we look around the world, we see that the single biggest risk to the international order may lie not in the killing fields of Ukraine or across the Taiwan Strait, but rather on the campaign trail in the United States.

Blinken in Southeast Asia to build support for China rivalry
Myanmar and North Korea also led the agenda as the Biden administration seeks to build U.S. ties to the region
(WaPo) As Beijing takes increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea and off the coast of Taiwan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Southeast Asian counterparts in Indonesia on Friday to warn them against “coercion,” a stand-in for China.
The trip by Blinken — his twelfth to the Indo-Pacific region, and his fourth to Indonesia, he said — was a measure of the Biden administration’s broadening effort to woo countries away from overt alignment with Beijing amid an aggressive Chinese diplomatic push in parts of the world that Washington has sometimes neglected.
It was also a foray into the world of intense regional challenges, including North Korea, which tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday, and Myanmar, whose repressive military dictatorship continues to imprison former leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officials.

11 July
In brief: The future of US-Africa trade and investment
(Atlantic Council) AGOA [African Growth and Opportunity Act] gives duty-free access to the US market for eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa, aiming to promote African economic development alongside market liberalization and democratic governance.
With AGOA due to expire in 2025, policymakers in the US and Africa must decide the basis for stronger US-Africa trade going forward.
The future of AGOA is not guaranteed. AGOA should be renewed by the US Congress for at least a ten-year period as soon as possible. Doing so could allow African economies to capitalize on efforts to diversify supply chains away from China, supporting US strategic interests and a more resilient global economy.
13 March
The US has gotten the day to day right in Africa policy. Time to think bigger

29 June
Biden’s Iran Envoy Is Placed on Leave Amid Security Clearance Review
Even before the news about his leave, Robert Malley seemed to be playing a less prominent role in U.S. policy toward Iran in recent months.
Mr. Malley has long been a target of Iran hawks and political opposition figures within Iran who view him as dangerously conciliatory toward the Iranian regime. He has long argued that a strategy of crushing economic and political pressure on Iran is bound to fail and that the United States must establish a productive dialogue with its leaders, however distasteful they may be.

21-22 June
Modi’s moment in Washington
After meeting with Biden on Thursday, Modi also addressed a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol – his second speech before US lawmakers since coming to power in 2014. He spent a large chunk of time talking up India’s democratic bonafides, referring to his country as “the mother of democracy” and nodding to the state’s 2,500 political parties.
‘India is now a linchpin’: US looks to Narendra Modi’s visit to counter China
The Biden administration will try to strengthen US-India ties while the Indian leader looks to shore up votes for next year’s election
(The Guardian) The symbolism of the visit will be hard to avoid. As Narendra Modi arrives in Washington DC on Wednesday – the capital of a country he was once prohibited from visiting for almost 10 years – he will join the ranks of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Volodymyr Zelenskiy as one of the few leaders to address a joint session of Congress more than once.

16 June
In anticipation of Modi’s state visit to Washington this is a timely reminder
India as It Is – Washington and New Delhi Share Interests, Not Values
… If making democratic values the cornerstone of the U.S.-Indian relationship has always been a dubious strategy, today it is clearly doomed—because the very notion of common values has itself come to look fanciful. Ever since Narendra Modi became the Indian prime minister nine years ago, India’s status as a democracy has become increasingly suspect.
… again and again, India has disappointed American hopes. Gandhi, for example, frustrated Roosevelt by prioritizing India’s struggle for freedom against the British Empire over the war against imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. New Delhi not only refused to align with Washington during the Cold War; it forged warm ties with Moscow instead. Even after the Cold War ended and India began strengthening its relations with the United States, New Delhi maintained strong connections to the Kremlin. It has refused to work with the United States on Iran, and it has made nice with Myanmar’s military regime. Most recently, it has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Heather Cox Richardson June 16, 2023
In one of the quirky coincidences that history deals out, Daniel Ellsberg died today at age 92 on the eve of the fifty-first anniversary of the break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked Pentagon Papers exposing Vietnam War secrets, dies at 92
like millions of other Americans, in and out of government, he had turned against the yearslong war in Vietnam, the government’s claims that the battle was winnable and that a victory for the North Vietnamese over the U.S.-backed South would lead to the spread of communism throughout the region. Unlike so many other war opponents, he was in a special position to make a difference.
(AP) As much as anyone, Ellsberg also embodied the fall of American idealism in foreign policy in the 1960s and 1970s and the upending of the post-World War II consensus that Communism, real or suspected, should be opposed worldwide.
The Pentagon Papers were first published in The New York Times in June 1971, with The Washington Post, The Associated Press and more than a dozen others following. They documented that the U.S. had defied a 1954 settlement barring a foreign military presence in Vietnam, questioned whether South Vietnam had a viable government, secretly expanded the war to neighboring countries and had plotted to send American soldiers even as Johnson vowed he wouldn’t.

14 June
Blinken (finally) goes to Beijing
This weekend, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will make his long-delayed trip to Beijing amid, let’s say, interesting times in US-China ties. (Yes, this is the trip that Blinken postponed over that Chinese spy balloon, but we’ll spare you the puns.)
What’s on the agenda? A lot, to put it mildly. Apart from the usual stuff — economic decoupling, trade, Taiwan, and Russia’s war in Ukraine — expect Blinken to also ask Xi Jinping about China’s reported electronic spy base in Cuba and recent trolling of US aircraft and warships in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
Meanwhile, Xi wants to secure from Blinken an in-person invite to catch up with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in San Francisco in November — a year since the two had their last huddle at the G-20 in Bali and more than 6 years since Xi’s last US visit, at Mar-a-Lago with Donald Trump.
Don’t expect Blinken and Xi to make much progress on any issue where Washington and Beijing are at odds. But in such an increasingly tense bilateral relationship between two rival powers with serious comms problems, perhaps the best we can hope for is that they keep talking to each other.
The China Trap
U.S. Foreign Policy and the Perilous Logic of Zero-Sum Competition
By Jessica Chen Weiss
(Foreign Affairs September/October 2022) Competition with China has begun to consume U.S. foreign policy. Seized with the challenge of a near-peer rival whose interests and values diverge sharply from those of the United States, U.S. politicians and policymakers are becoming so focused on countering China that they risk losing sight of the affirmative interests and values that should underpin U.S. strategy.

Hoping to Avert Nuclear Crisis, U.S. Seeks Informal Agreement With Iran
The talks reflect a resumption of diplomacy between the United States and Iran after the collapse of negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,…said that he could endorse a deal with the United States if Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is kept intact.
(NYT) The Biden administration has been negotiating quietly with Iran to limit Tehran’s nuclear program and free imprisoned Americans, according to officials from three countries, in part of a larger U.S. effort to ease tensions and reduce the risk of a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic.
The U.S. goal is to reach an informal, unwritten agreement, which some Iranian officials are calling a “political cease-fire.” It would aim to prevent a further escalation in a long-hostile relationship that has grown even more fraught as Iran builds up a stockpile of highly enriched uranium close to bomb-grade purity, supplies Russia with drones for use in Ukraine and brutally cracks down on domestic political protests.

4 June
China and U.S. defense chiefs compete for influence in the Asia Pacific
The U.S. and China are competing for influence in the Asia Pacific
(NPR) [U.S. defense secretary Lloyd] Austin touted expanded military exercises with allies and partners, including Japan, Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The U.S. is also increasing the sharing of military technology with India, creating interoperability between its military systems with Japan, and is currently building a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with Australia.
[Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu] countered in his remarks Sunday, offering to partner militarily with Southeast Asian countries on the basis of “mutual respect.”
However, the response to Li’s remarks from various Southeast Asian delegations gave the impression that this “family” is very much divided. Some said that while China talks about co-operation, its actions have a different message.

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